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TOLSTOY ON ART 




L. N TOLSTOY and A. P.CHEKHOV 
At Gwrprot in (he Crimea, during ToUtay't \Une*a in 1902 



54--5^ 



TOLSTOY 

ON 

ART 

BY 

AYLMER MAUDE 



<\ 



an 






HUMPHREY MILFORD 

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

LONDON EDINBURGH GLASGOW TORONTO 

MELBOURNE CAPE TOWN BOMBAY CALCUTTA 



Printed in the United SLites of America 
Prr of Geo. H. SUit Co., Boston, Mass., USA 



PREFACE 

The title of this book calls for some explanation. What 
is of value in it all belongs to, or derives from, Tolstoy. Why 
then is it not issued simply as a translation of Tolstoy's essays 
on art? 

The case is this: When Tolstoy's What is Art? (his chief 
work on the subject) appeared in 1898, it gave rise to ex- 
tensive controversy. Several critics maintained that his prop- 
ositions were incomprehensible or ridiculous. 

It happened that I had translated the book into English 
in personal consultation with Tolstoy, besides exchanging a 
score of letters with him discussing every point in the book 
that was not perfectly' plain to me. When my translation 
was completed and he had read it carefully, he wrote a pref- 
ace for it, in which he appealed to "all who are interested 
in my views on art only to judge of them by the work in its 
present shape." He also said, "This book of mine, What is 
Art? appears now for the first time in its true form. More 
than one edition has already been issued in Russia, but in 
each case it has been mutilated by the censor." 

I wrote a thirty-page Introduction to the book, in which 
I set out, as clearly as I could, what I understood to be 
Tolstoy's essential meaning, and in reply to an attack on 
Tolstoy in the Quarterly Review, I wrote another article 
which appeared in the Contemporary Review recapitulating 
my understanding of the matter. Both these essays received 
Tolstoy's emphatic approval. Of the first he wrote, "I have 
read your Introduction with great pleasure. You have ad- 
mirably and strongly expressed the fundamental thought of 



vi PREFACE 

the book," and of the second he wrote, "Your article pleased 
me exceedingly, so clearly and strongly is the fundamental 
thought expressed." 

It therefore happens that, though I had contributed no 
original ideas and had merely restated Tolstoy's views, my 
articles serve as a decisive reply to those who maintained that 
Tolstoy meant something he did not mean. 

As evidence of his intention, therefore, these essays are 
worth reproducing. Had I let the book be published simply 
as a translation of Tolstoy, while including in it so much 
matter of my own, I should have been reproached for encum- 
bering the translation with matter not written by Tolstoy. 
The objections to that course seem stronger than those to the 
course I have adopted; and no third way of dealing with the 
matter suggested itself to me. 

The book is intended less for those who specialise in some 
particular sphere or art and are satisfied with the views held 
by their coterie, than for readers interested in the relation of 
art to life in general, and who wish to understand why art is 
of importance to mankind. 

The illustrations consist chiefly of copies of Russian pic- 
tures mentioned by Tolstoy and which, since the Revolution, 
are not readily procurable. It has not in all cases been possi- 
ble to procure first-rate reproductions but, such as they are, 
they show what Tolstoy was talking about and, as he was di- 
recting attention to the feelings they convey rather than to 
their technique, the quality of the reproduction is not of pri- 
mary importance. 

It is inconvenient that the name of a great writer should be 
spelt in more than one way ; so I take this opportunity to men- 
tion that not only did Tolstoy write his name with a y, as did 
his wife and his literary executors, but that this is in accord 
with the plan laid down by the British Academy, in its 




PREFACE vii 

"Scheme for the Transliteration into English of words and 
names belonging to Russian and other Slavonic languages." 
On the Committee that dealt with this matter were Sir Paul 
Vinogradoff, Dr. Hagberg Wright, Dr. Seton Watson, Mr. 
Nevill Forbes, Mr. Minns, and other eminent authorities. 
The agreement of Tolstoy's own practice with the conclusions 
arrived at by such a Committee should suffice to set 
this vexed question finally at rest. It is indeed seldom wise 
to attempt to improve on a great modern writer's way of 
spelling his own name. 

This volume presents, for the first time in English, a com- 
plete collection of Tolstoy's essays on art, and contains some 
that had not previously been translated. 

What is Art?, which has appeared before, gives, I think, 
the most lucid statement of the nature of artistic activity and 
of its relation to the rest of life, that has ever been penned. 
The rest of the essays are chiefly valuable for the light they 
throw on the process by which Tolstoy himself a great ar- 
tist both in fiction and in the drama arrived at the solution 
of this problem, which had occupied his mind from his youth 
upwards, but which he did not succeed in solving to his satis- 
faction until he had reached the age of three score years and 
ten. 

Aylmer Maude. 
Great Baddow 

Chelmsford 
England 

26th September, 1924 



CONTENTS 

PART PAGE 

VIA Survey of Tolstoy's Essays on Art (1924) .... 1 

II Schoolboys and Art (1861) 21 

III The Last Supper (1885) 29 

*& IV On Truth in Art (1887) 33 

^7 V " What is Truth ?" (1890) 36 

VI Introduction to Amiel's Journal (1893) 38 

VII Introduction to S. T. Semenov's Peasant Stories (1894) . 43 
VIII Introduction to the Works of Guy de Maupassant (1894) 46 
IX From a Letter to Peter Verigin, the Doukhobor Leader 

(^95) 72 

J X On Art (c. 1895-7) 75 

j XI An Introduction to " What is Art ? " (1899) .... 91 
XII Tolstoy's Preface to " What is Art ? " (1898) . . . .117 

/ (Sill) What is Art ? (1898) 121 

Appendices 334 

J q5v) Tolstoy's View of Art (1900 & 1924) 358 

XV Preface to Polenz's Novel Der Biittnerbauer (1902) . . 378 
XVI An Afterword, by Tolstoy, to Chekhov's Story, Darling 

(1905) 388 

XVII Shakespeare and the Drama (1906) 393 

" XVIII A Talk on the Drama (c. 1907) 464 

XIX Two Kinds of Mental Activity (1908) 466 

XX Preface to N. Orlov's Album of Russian Peasants (1909) . 468 

Appendix : Darling by Anton Chekhov 474 

Index 491 

ix 



ERRATA 

P. 271. For English Academy read Royal Academy 

P. 274. Illustration " Charity." For British Academy read Royal Academy 

P. 465. Delete date at end. 




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



L. N. Tolstoy and A. P. Chekhov Frontispiece 

At Gaspra, in the Crimea, during Tolstoy's illness in 1902 

PAQB 

"The Last Supper" 30 

After a painting by N. N. Gay, 1863 

"What is Truth?" 36 

After a painting by N. N. Gay, 1890 

"The Day of Judgment" 270 

A painting by V. M. Vasnetsov in Kiev Cathedral 

A Sketch illustrating Turgenev's story, "The Quail" . . . .272 
By V. M. Vasnetsov 

"Charity" 274 

By Walter Langley, British Academy, 1897 

"A Triumphal Procession" 288 

A drawing by I. N. Kramskoy 

"Der Salontiroler" 290 

By Franz Defregger 

"The Angels at the Tomb of Christ" 298 

By E. Manet 

"The Return from Work" 470 

By N. Orlov 

"The Monopoly" 472 

By N. Orlov 



TOLSTOY ON ART 



TJ s is a NEW book. Since others are perhaps 
w; ting for it, please do not retain it longer 
necessary. 



.., 



TOLSTOY ON ART 

PART I 

A SURVEY OF TOLSTOY'S ESSAY ON ART 

Tolstoy's little volume What is Art? being out of print 
in England at present, it occurs to me that it may be well, 
instead of republishing it separately, to do what has not be- 
fore been done and bring together into a single volume all 
Tolstoy's writings on art, especially as some of these which 
certainly deserve attention, are not included in any of the 
editions of his works that have been published in England or 
in America. 

Tolstoy's views on art are often referred to, but seldom cor- 
rectly presented. In the leading British literary organ, the 
Times Literary Supplement, of 28th April 1921, for instance, 
two reviewers, dealing with different works, referred to What 
is Art? and both of them attributed to Tolstoy views he had 
never either expressed or held. A letter in reply appeared a 
fortnight later in the same paper, saying: 

"Allow me to point out to the reviewer of Mr. Joad's Common-Sense 
Ethics that Tolstoy never 'came to the conclusion that the word beauty 
means nothing and is useless.' On the contrary, What is Art? furnishes 
evidence were evidence needed that Tolstoy knew the meaning of the 
word and found it useful. For instance, he says: 'I fear it will be 
urged against me that having denied that the conception of beauty can 
supply a standard for works of art, I contradict myself by acknowledg- 
ing ornaments to be works of art. The reproach is unjust, for the 
subject-matter of all kinds of ornamentation consists not in the beauty, 

1 



2 TOLSTOY ON ART 

but in the feeling (of admiration of and delight in the combination of 
lines and colours) which the artist has experienced and with which he 
infects the spectator. Art remains what it was and what it must be: 
nothing but the infection by one man of another, or of others, with the 
feelings experienced by the infector. Among these feelings is the feel- 
ing of delight at what pleases the sight ..." 

"Here and elsewhere in the same book he understands and approves 
of beauty, and he uses the word, as in a passage in which he denounces 
exclusive art produced for a select circle as having 'lost its beauty,' but 
he is careful not to base his definition of art on the use of the word 
beauty, because that would merely substitute one problem for another, 
since there is as much vagueness in the use of the word 'beauty' as in that 
of the word 'art.' 'There is no objective definition of beauty.' Tolstoy 
required a clear workable definition, and found one which meets the case. 

"The reviewer of Mr. Hind's Art and I says: 'Tolstoy held that a 
Russian peasant, just because he was a Russian peasant, was a born 
judge of art.' This is again a flagrant misrepresentation. What Tol- 
stoy says is that the highest art has been understood by simple unper- 
verted peasant labourers; there is no special claim made on behalf of 
Russians. He instances the poems of Homer, admitted to be very great 
art yet eagerly listened to by 'men of those times who were even less 
educated than our labourers.' Tolstoy's argument is, that a perverted 
education may sterilize man's capacity to enjoy art, but that an unper- 
verted man naturally possesses 'that simple feeling familiar to the plain- 
est man and even to a child, that sense of infection with another's feel- 
ing compelling us to joy in another's gladness, to sorrow at another's 
grief, and to mingle souls with another which is the very essence of 
art.' " 



It would be easy to multiply instances both of the attention 
paid to Tolstoy's views and of the misrepresentation of them 
that is still common, but the above will suffice for the present 
purpose. 

Something happened at the time of the first appearance of 
What is Art? which hindered the due understanding of it. 
Among his many reformist activities, Tolstoy wished to see 
the business of publishing set on a new basis, and he assumed 
that it would be easy to improve on the methods employed by 



A SURVEY 3 

the best existing publishers. Desiring no profit from his 
works, he was inclined to encourage the publishing experi- 
ments of people who professed agreement with his social and 
religious views; and it happened that What is Art? was com- 
pleted just at the time when a small and impecunious group 
calling itself The Brotherhood Publishing Co. had started 
business in London, to propagate Tolstoyan views. At his 
wish and at that of his friend Tchertkoff this Brotherhood 
Publishing Co. was entrusted with the first publication of 
the version of What is Art? which I had made from Tolstoy's 
manuscript chapter by chapter in consultation with him as 
he wrote. It thus happened that the manager of the 
Brotherhood Publishing Co. received the work before anyone 
in France and, without asking permission, supplied to a Paris 
periodical the chapters in which French writers and painters 
of the day were drastically dealt with. The publication of 
this detached portion of the book apart from the chapters dis- 
closing his general argument was much regretted by Tolstoy. 
It had the appearance of a wilful and unprovoked attack on 
a number of distinguished individuals and evoked great 
indignation; so that when, shortly afterwards, the book itself 
appeared in France, it was at once met by a storm of invective 
and denunciation. 

Now in those days French criticism led the literary world 
of Europe and America, especially in regard to Russian 
literature, and in face of this storm only certain of the most 
independent English critics ventured to trust their own judg- 
ment and to testify to the value and importance of Tolstoy's 
work. 

During the quarter of a century that has passed since then 
his views have so far penetrated the public mind that some 
of them are already becoming commonplaces, but there are 
many indications that his message is still far from being 
completely understood. 



4 TOLSTOY ON ART 

It may be of interest to see how Tolstoy's opinions on art 
grew and developed. At the age of thirty, in February, 1858, 
he joined the Moscow Society of Lovers of Russian Litera- 
ture, and delivered a lecture on "The Supremacy of the Artis- 
tic Element in Literature. " It was never published, and has 
now been lost. From the record that remains, it would seem 
that he argued that art should treat of what is always beautiful 
and of what is as unalterable as the fundamental laws of the 
soul, and that he condemned the utilization of art for the 
indictment of particular social evils in one's own age and 
country. Many literary men in Russia were then much con- 
cerned about the emancipation of the serfs, and Tolstoy 
seems to have suggested that they were making art a tool, and 
failing to employ it in the loftiest way. He had evidently far v 
to travel before reaching his ultimate conclusions. 

In the winter of 1861, when absorbed in the school he had 
started for peasant children at Yasnaya Polyana, he went 
for a walk late one evening with some lads of ten or twelve 
years of age. Their talk turned on singing, drawing, and art 
in general. Tolstoy's account of this walk will be found in 
the next chapter. He says: "We began to speak of the fact 
that not everything exists for use, but that there is also beauty, 
and that art is beauty, and we understood one another, and 
Fedka quite understood what singing is for. It feels strange 
to repeat what we said then, but it seems to me that we said 
all that can be said about utility, and plastic and moral 
beauty." 

In another article of that period he speaks of his amaze- 
ment at finding that these young peasant boys, when relieved 
of the technical and mechanical difficulties of writing by 
having it done for them, could compose stories showing high 
artistic feeling. 

After many experiments he found that the most efficacious 
way of stimulating these boys was to suggest to them interest- 







A SURVEY 



ing themes: for instance, that they should write short stories 
to illustrate popular proverbs. When they became interested 
in framing these stories, it was not in the first instance they 
who had to do the actual writing, but Tolstoy who wrote at 
their dictation. In this way their eagerness and their 
creative faculty were not checked, and it was possible quickly 
to point out to them wherein the real difficulties of authorship 
lie. The real difficulty, to anyone possessed of imagination 
and an active mind, is to select from all the thoughts that 
suggest themselves those which are really most essential to 
the story, to avoid repetition, and to maintain a due propor- 
tion between the various parts. As soon as the boys found that 
they really could compose stories which interested other people 
(and a talented child is able to do this almost from the first 
if he is judiciously advised and his exuberances checked) 
they naturally became intensely eager to master the mechani- 
cal difficulties, especially as Tolstoy was careful not to annoy 
them by injudicious remarks about the tidiness of their copy- 
books, the quality of their penmanship, or mere grammatical 
errors. A mastery of these things can best be acquired through 
the boy's desire to avoid absurdity and to be intelligible. 
Tolstoy found that it merely annoys boys to be told that a 
certain mistake infringes a rule of grammar. They care 
nothing about grammar they detest it. But if you put the 
thing another way round, and point out to a child that what 
he has said is unintelligible, or is open to misconstruction, or 
is not the best way of saying the thing, he understands the 
common sense of that, and learns his grammar or orthography 
in order to reach the result he desires. 

Similarly with all the sciences. Things that the school- 
books and the pedagogues often begin with, dry classifications 
and unknown words, have the effect of repelling a boy and 
making him withdraw into his shell as a tortoise does at the 
approach of danger. The proper way, Tolstoy says, is to 



6 TOLSTOY ON ART 

begin with things the child can verify by his own observation, 
and in which he can be expected to take an intelligent interest. 
When he already possesses an accumulation of facts which 
to him are real and interesting, he may be glad enough to 
accept classification and terminology, to enable him to sort 
out his facts and deal with them more easily. 

With music also this is true. Tolstoy achieved remarkable 
success by avoiding the usual pedantry and compulsion, not 
obliging any boy to work at it who did not like it, and help- 
ing the pupils to get quickly at the real art of the thing in its 
simplest forms. 

Convinced of the artistic capacity of these lads Tolstoy 
declared : 

"I think the need to enjoy art and to serve art is inherent in every 
human being whatever race or class he may belong to, and that this 
need has its rights and should be satisfied. Taking that position as 
an axiom, I say that, if the enjoyment and production of art by every 
one presents inconveniences and inconsistencies, the reason lies in the 
character and direction art has taken: about which we must be on our 
guard lest we foist anything false on the rising generation and lest we 
prevent it from producing something new both in form and matter." 

He was much troubled by the lack of good books for the 
people, and wrote: "Let us print good books for the 
people. . . . How simple and easy it seems, like all great 
thoughts! There is only one obstacle, namely, that there 
exist no good books for the people either here or in Europe. 
To print such books they must first be produced, and none 
of our philanthropists think of undertaking that line of 
work." 

This was in 1862. Twenty years later Tolstoy set himself 
to the task he saw to be so necessary, and wrote that delightful 
series of short and simple stories for the people, which are 
collected in the volume of Twenty-Three Tales. 1 He also 

1 Oxford University Press, "World's Classics" series, London and New York. 




A SURVEY 7 

published a short play called The First Distiller, adapted for 
performance at any country fair or by any workers' group, and 
among his posthumous plays there is another of similar char- 
acter, The Cause of It All. They are both included in the 
volume of his Plays issued in The World's Classics series. 

It is of course harder to produce work which shall really 
convey a feeling to a wide audience than it is for a writer to 
restrict himself to a circle who have undergone the same 
training, culture, and social experience, as himself. To reach 
the wide mass of humanity the artist, in addition to real sin- 
cerity, must have the qualities of brevity and simplicity, as 
one sees them exemplified in the Gospel parables, the Old 
Testament stories, popular folk tales, the old ballads, and in 
a lesser degree in such modern works as Dickens' The Christ- 
mas Carol. But if the achievement be difficult, its social 
importance is immensely great, and nothing in modern litera- 
ture in this direction has been more successful than Tolstoy's 
stories in Twenty-Three Tales. They have made their way 
into all languages and have been welcomed everywhere by 
young and old, learned and simple alike. 

Curiously enough, the Oxford University Press edition of 
Tolstoy's works, the aim of which is to give English-speaking 
readers a more readable, reliable, authoritative, and complete, 
rendering of Tolstoy's works than had previously been pro- 
duced, originated from Tolstoy's efforts to provide good liter- 
ature for the Russian people. When the late W. T. Stead 
visited him at Yasnaya Polyana they discussed the possibility 
of providing popular editions of the best literature at a cheap 
price. Tolstoy spoke of what was being done in chat direction 
under his auspices in Moscow. And Stead after his return 
to England issued a series of penny booklets containing 
summaries of the best books. This plan aimed too high, 
and was not permanently successful; but Grant Richards, 
who was one of Stead's assistants at the time, saw the possi- 



8 TOLSTOY ON ART 

bilities in the idea and, after starting his own business, 
brought out the World's Classics series, well-printed and 
well-bound at a very moderate price. One of the volumes he 
issued was Essays and Letters by Tolstoy. The book met 
with Tolstoy's cordial approval, and of the rendering he wrote 
me: "Your translations are very good because, besides hav- 
ing excellent command of both languages, you also love the 
thoughts you transmit; this gives me great pleasure." Henry 
Frowde, who was the London representative of the Oxford 
University Press, took over the series when Grant Richards 
failed, and continued it. Twenty-Three Tales was the next 
Tolstoy volume that was added, and others followed. What 
distinguishes the World Classics among other series of inex- 
pensive books is the care devoted to the editing and to the 
quality of the versions produced. In this respect it claims 
to be far ahead of any other edition of Tolstoy's works. 

Tolstoy's marriage and the production of War and Peace, 1 
Anna Karenina 1 and the First Russian Reading Books occu- 
pied him for twenty years, during which he wrote little about 
the philosophy of art, though references to art in his novels 
and stories indicate that its influence on life always occupied 
his mind. He had previously in Lucern (1857) described 
an itinerant Swiss musician and expressed indignation that 
the wealthy tourists who enjoyed that musician's art failed to 
contribute to his needs. A year later, in Albert, he described 
a drunken but talented violinist he met in Petersburg. In 
actual life he took Rudolph (the prototype of Albert) to 
Yasnaya Polyana, and there studied music with him. 

In War and Peace 1 there is a striking passage dealing with 
the effect of Natasha's singing on Nicholas, when he returns 
home in despair after heavy losses at cards (ch. 15, Book IV, 
pp. 434-5). 

Later, in 1879, in his very interesting Confession 1 in the 

1 Oxford University Press, "World's Classics" series, London and New York. 






A SURVEY 9 



course of a scathing denunciation of the life of the social 
circles to which he belonged he says: 

"During that time I began to write from vanity, covetousness, and 
pride. In my writings I did the same as in my life. To get fame and 
money, for the sake of which I wrote, it was necessary to hide the good 
and to display the evil. And I did so. How often in my writings I 
contrived to hide under the guise of indifference, or even of banter, those 
strivings towards goodness which gave meaning to my life ! And I suc- 
ceeded in this and was praised. 

"At twenty-six years of age I returned to Petersburg after the war 
and met the writers. They received me as one of themselves and flattered 
me. And before I had time to look round I had adopted the views on 
life of the set of authors I had come among, and these views completely 
obliterated all my former strivings to improve. Those views furnished 
a theory which justified the dissoluteness of my life. 

"The view of life of these people, my comrades in authorship, con- 
sisted in this: that life in general goes on developing, and in this de- 
velopment we men of thought have the chief part; and among men 
of thought it is we artists and poets * who have the greatest influence. 
Our vocation is to teach mankind. And lest the simple question should 
suggest itself: what do I know and what can I teach? it was explained 
in this theory that this need not be known, and that the artist and poet 
teach unconsciously. I was considered an admirable artist and poet, 
and therefore it was very natural for me to adopt this theory. I, artist 
and poet, wrote and taught, without myself knowing what. For this I 
was paid money; I had excellent food, lodging, women, and society, and 
I had fame; which showed that what I taught was very good. 

"This faith in the meaning of poetry and in the development of life 
was a religion, and I was one of its priests. To be its priest was very 
pleasant and profitable. And I lived a considerable time in this faith 
without doubting its validity. But in the second, and especially in the 
third year of this life, I began to doubt the infallibility of this religion 
and to examine it. My first cause of doubt was that I began to notice 
that the priests of this religion were not all in accord among themselves. 
Some said: we are the best and most useful teachers; we teach what is 
needed but the others teach wrongly. Others said: No! we are the real 

1 In Russian the word 'poet' is used not only of writers of verse, but also of 
writers of fiction and poetic prose. 



10 TOLSTOY ON ART 

teachers and you teach wrongly. And they disputed, quarrelled, abused, 
cheated, and tricked one another. There were also many among us who 
did not care who was right and who was wrong, but were simply bent 
on attaining their covetous aims by means of this activity of ours. All 
this obliged me to doubt the validity of our creed. 

"Moreover, having begun to doubt the truth of the authors' creed 
itself, I also began to observe its priests more attentively, and I became 
convinced that almost all the priests of that religion, the writers, were 
immoral, and for the most part men of bad worthless character, much 
inferior to those whom I had met in my former dissipated and military 
life; but they were self-confident and self-satisfied as only those can be 
who are quite holy or who do not know what holiness is. These people 
revolted me, and I realized that that faith was a fraud. 

"But strange to say, though I understood this fraud and renounced 
it, yet I did not renounce the rank these people gave me: the rank of 
artist, poet and teacher. I naively imagined that I was a poet and 
artist and could teach everybody without myself knowing what I was 
teaching, and I acted accordingly. 

"From my intimacy with these men I acquired a new vice: abnormally 
developed pride, and an insane assurance that it was my vocation to 
teach men, without knowing what. 

"To remember that time and my own state of mind and that of those 
men (though there are thousands like them to-day) is sad and terrible 
and ludicrous, and arouses exactly the feeling one experiences in a 
lunatic asylum. 

"We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to speak, 
write, and print, as quickly as possible, and that it was all wanted for 
the good of humanity. And thousands of us, contradicting and abusing 
one another, all printed and wrote teaching others. And without re- 
marking that we knew nothing, and that to the simplest of life's ques- 
tions: What is good and what is evil? we did not know how to reply, 
we all, not listening to one another, talked at the same time, sometimes 
backing and praising one another in order to be backed and praised in 
turn, sometimes getting angry with one another just as in a lunatic 
asylum. 

"Thousands of workmen laboured to the extreme limit of their strength 
day and night, setting the type and printing millions of words which 
the post carried all over Russia, and we still went on teaching, and could 
in no way find time to teach enough, and were always angry that suf- 
ficient attention was not paid us. 



A SURVEY 11 

"It was terribly strange, but it is now quite comprehensible. Our 
real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. 
To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers. 
So we did that. But in order to do such useless work and to feel as- 
sured that we were very important people we required a theory justify- 
ing our activity. And so among us this theory was devised: 'All that 
exists is reasonable. All that exists develops. And it all develops by 
means of culture. And culture is measured by the circulation of books 
and newspapers. And we are paid money and are respected because we 
write books and newspapers, and therefore we are the most useful and 
the best of men.' This theory would have been all very well if we had 
been unanimous, but as every thought expressed by one of us was met 
by a diametrically opposed thought expressed by another, we ought to 
have been driven to reflection. But we ignored this; people paid us 
money, and those on our side praised us; so each of us considered him- 
self justified. 

"It is now clear to me that this was just as in a lunatic asylum; but 
then I only dimly suspected this, and, like all lunatics, simply called 
all men lunatics except myself." 

And further on he says: 

"Art, poetry? . . . Under the influence of success and the praise of 
men I had long assured myself that this was a thing one could do though 
death was drawing near death which destroys all things, including my 
work and its remembrance; but soon I saw that that too was a fraud. 
It was plain to me that art was an adornment of life, an allurement to 
life. But life had lost its attraction for me; so how could I attract 
others? As long as I was not living my own life but was borne on the 
waves of some other life as long as I believed that life had a meaning, 
though one I could not express the reflection of life in poetry and art 
of all kinds afforded me pleasure: it was pleasant to look at life in the 
mirror of art. But when I began to seek the meaning of life, and felt 
the necessity of living my own life, that mirror became for me unneces- 
sary, superfluous, ridiculous, or painful. I could no longer soothe my- 
self with what I now saw in the mirror, namely, that my position was 
stupid and desperate. It was all very well to enjoy the sight when in 
the depth of my soul I believed that my life had a meaning. Then the 
play of lights comic, tragic, touching, beautiful, and terrible in life 
amused me. But when I knew life to be meaningless and terrible, the 
play in the mirror could no longer amuse me." 



12 TOLSTOY ON ART 

But it is plain that in his Confession Tolstoy is not pri- 
marily concerned with the philosophy of art. He introduces 
it only as part of his scathing indictment of the life of the 
well-to-do classes. 

Similarly in What Then Must We Do? (1884) his terrific 
indictment of modern civilisation includes frequent reference 
to art and science, but there is no separate discussion of art, 
and his main point is that, if art is as necessary and beneficial 
to man as is generally supposed, a civilization is morally inde- 
fensible that practically excludes the mass of the people from 
its enjoyment including those who spend their whole lives 
in printing books, building theatres, libraries, and picture 
galleries, making paints and canvas for artists, or providing 
food, clothing, shelter, fuel and conveyance, for all who devote 
themselves to art. If the labourer produces material food 
that the artist consents to consume, the artist should in com- 
mon fairness produce mental and spiritual food adapted for 
the labourer's consumption. But we, says Tolstoy, consume 
what the labourer produces for us and then write books, son- 
nets, and sonatas, not for him but for one another, dishonestly 
leaving his mental needs unsatisfied. That indictment, 
powerful as it is, is a thing apart from Tolstoy's elucidation 
of the philosophy of art, and finds its place better in What 
Then Must We Do? (which is due to appear shortly in the 
World's Classics series) than in this volume. 

In 1889 appeared The Kreutzer Sonata, 1 containing some 
striking references to music. 

The opinions there expressed are put into the mouth of 
Pozdnyshev, a man mentally unbalanced, who has killed his 
wife without any convincing proof that his jealousy was well* 
grounded. Tolstoy makes Pozdnyshev's abnormality quite 
clear. He is described as terribly nervous and excitable, 
"with unnaturally glittering eyes which kept rapidly moving 

1 Oxford University Press, "World's Classics" series, London and New York. 




A SURVEY 13 

om one object to another." Pozdnyshev says that he was 
"on the very point of suicide"; remarks that "you can drive 
me to madness. I cannot answer for myself." We are told 
of "the mad animal jealousy in him." And he says, " I could 
not have said what it was I wanted. It was downright 
madness!" 

His whole way of expressing himself is extreme, and grant- 
ing that Tolstoy uses him to express in exaggerated form 
views he himself arrived at while writing the book, we have no 
right to add anything to such emphatic utterances. 

What then does this Pozdnyshev say? He says: 

"One of the most distressing conditions of life for a jealous man (and 
every one is jealous in our world) are certain society conventions which 
allow a man and woman the greatest and most dangerous proximity. 
You would become a laughing-stock to others if you tried to prevent 
such nearness at balls, or the nearness of doctors to their women-patients, 
or of people occupied with art, sculpture, or especially music. A couple 
are occupied with the noblest of arts, music; this demands a certain 
nearness, and there is nothing reprehensible in that, and only a stupid 
jealous husband can see anything undesirable in it. Yet everybody 
knows that it is by means of those very pursuits, especially of music, 
that the greater part of the adulteries in our society occur. . . ." 

In another passage he continues his narration: 

"The dinner was, as dinners are, dull and pretentious. The music 
began pretty early. Oh, how I remember every detail of that evening! 
I remember how he brought in his violin, unlocked the case, took off 
a cover a lady had embroidered for him, drew out the violin, and began 
tuning it. I remember how my wife sat down with pretended uncon- 
cern, under which I saw that she was trying to conceal great timidity 
chiefly as to her own ability sat down at the piano, and then the usual 
a on the piano began, the pizzicato of the violin, and the arrangement 
of the music. Then I remember how they glanced at one another, 
turned to look at the audience who were seating themselves, said some- 
thing to one another and began. He took the first chords. His face 
grew serious, stern, and sympathetic, and listening to the sounds he 



14 TOLSTOY ON ART 

produced, he touched the strings with careful fingers. The piano 
answered him. The music began. . . . 

"They played Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. Do you know the first 
presto? You do? Ugh! Ugh! It is a terrible thing, that sonata. 
And especially that part. And in general music is a dreadful thing! 
What is it? I don't understand. What is music? What does it do? 
And why does it do what it does? They say music exalts the soul. 
Nonsense, it is not true ! It has an effect, an awful effect I am speak- 
ing of myself but not of an exalting kind. It has neither an exalting 
nor a debasing effect, but it produces agitation. How can I put it? 
Music makes me forget myself, my real position; it transports me to some 
other position, not my own. Under the influence of music it seems to 
me that I feel what I do not really feel, that I understand what I do 
not understand, that I can do what I cannot do. I explain it by the 
fact that music acts like yawning, like laughter: I am not sleepy, but I 
yawn when I see some one yawning; there is nothing for me to laugh at, 
but I laugh when I hear people laughing. 

"Music carries me immediately and directly into the mental condi- 
tion in which the man was who composed it. My soul merges with his 
and together with him I pass from one condition into another; but why 
this happens, I don't know. You see, he who wrote, let us say, the 
Kreutzer Sonata Beethoven knew of course why he was in that 
condition; that condition caused him to do certain actions, and there- 
fore that condition had a meaning for him, but for me none at all. 
That is why music only agitates and doesn't lead to a conclusion. 
Well, when a military march is played, the soldiers step to the music and 
the music has achieved its object. A dance is played, I dance, and 
the music has achieved its object. Mass has been sung, I receive Com- 
munion, and that music too has reached a conclusion. Otherwise it is 
only agitating, and what ought to be done in that agitation is lacking. 
That is why music sometimes acts so dreadfully, so terribly. In China, 
music is a State affair. And that is as it should be. How can one 
allow anyone who pleases to hypnotize another, or many others, and do 
what he likes with them. And especially that this hynotist should be 
the first immoral man who turns up? 

"It is a terrible instrument in the hands of any chance user! Take 
that Kreutzer Sonata, for instance, how can that first presto be played 
in a drawing-room among ladies in low-necked dresses? To hear that 
played, to clap a little, and then to eat ices and talk of the latest scandal? 
Such things should only be played on certain important significant oc- 



A SURVEY 15 

casions, and then only when certain actions answering to such music 
are wanted; play it then and do what the music has moved you to. 
Otherwise an awakening of energy and feeling unsuited both to the time 
and the place, to which no outlet is given, cannot but act harmfully. 
At any rate on me that piece had an awful effect; it was as if quite new 
feelings, new possibilities, of which I had till then been unaware, had 
been revealed to me. 'That's how it is: not at all as I used to think 
and live, but that way/ something seemed to say within me. What this 
new thing was that had been revealed to me, I could not explain to 
myself, but the consciousness of this new condition was very joyous. 
All those same people, including my wife and him, appeared in a 
new light. 

"After that allegro they played the beautiful, but common and 
unoriginal, andante with trite variations, and the very weak finale. 
Then, at the request of the visitors, they played Ernst's Elegy and a 
few small pieces. They were all good, but they did not produce on 
me one-hundredth part of the impression the first piece had. The 
effect of the first piece formed the background for them all. 

"I felt lighthearted and cheerful the whole evening. I had never 
seen my wife as she was that evening. Those shining eyes, that severe, 
significant expression while she played, and her melting languor and 
feeble, pathetic, and blissful smile after they had finished. I saw all 
that, but did not attribute any meaning to it except that she was feeling 
what I felt, and that to her as to me new feelings, never before ex- 
perienced, were revealed or, as it were, recalled. The evening ended 
satisfactorily and the visitors departed." 

Subsequently Pozdnyshev says : 

"Only then did I remember their faces that evening when, after the 
Kreutzer Sonata, they played some impassioned little piece, I don't 
remember by whom impassioned to the point of obscenity." 

These allusions of Pozdnyshev to music have frequently 
been misrepresented, owing no doubt to the title of the story. 
But anyone who reads it carefully will see that he does not 
attribute any dissolute influence to the Kreutzer Sonata. He 
expressly says that it was some little piece by a composer 
whose name he does not remember which was " sensual to the 



16 TOLSTOY ON ART 

point of obscenity." Of the Kreutzer Sonata, and of music 
generally, what he says is that it can have a "terrible" influ- 
ence, because it lifts a man out of his ordinary condition and 
arouses emotions which upset his balance and expose him to 
various influences, which, amid certain surroundings, may 
be bad. 

It is an instance of the thoughtlessness with which works 
of fiction are often read, that these utterances attributed to 
Pozdnyshev have been taken as an indication that Tolstoy 
himself regarded Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata as an immoral 
work! One should compare Pozdnyshev's utterances with 
what Tolstoy had said in War and Peace, when Nicholas 
Rostov felt his whole mood altered by his sister's singing, 
and ceased to despair or for a time even to feel his losses. 
Music in both cases lifted people out of their customary or 
accidental mood, and released energies which might flow in 
different directions according to circumstances. 

"Oh, how that chord vibrated, and how moved was something that 
was best in Rostov's soul! And this something was apart from every- 
thing else in the world. What were losses and Dolokhov and words of 
honour? . . . All nonsense! One might kill and rob and yet be 
happy!" 

To see more clearly what was Tolstoy's considered opin- 
ions about music, one must turn to What is Art? p. 287 : 

"Sometimes people who are together, if not hostile to one another, are 
at least estranged in mood and feeling, till perhaps a story, a per- 
formance, a picture ... but oftenest of all music, unites them all as by 
an electric flash, and in place of their former isolation and even enmity, 
they are all conscious of union and mutual love. Each is glad that an- 
other feels what he feels; glad of the communion established not only 
between him and all present, but also with all now living who will yet 
share the same impression; and more than that, he feels the mysterious 
gladness of a communion which, reaching beyond the grave, unites us 



A SURVEY 17 

with all men of the past who have been moved by the same feelings and 
with all men of the future who will yet be touched by them." 

That passage effectually disposes of the suggestion that 
Tolstoy regarded the normal effects of music as harmful. 

Tolstoy felt that all art, by its power to sway man's feel- 
ings, contains much that is dangerous and terrible as well as 
much that is necessary and ennobling, but one cannot read 
What is Art? without recognizing how strongly he felt the 
beneficial effect music may have. 

Besides these references in his novels and stories before he 
had fully cleared the matter up in his own mind and had 
expressed it in What is Art? Tolstoy dealt with various as- 
pects of the matter, more particularly from the ethical side, 
in a series of articles, most of which aimed at drawing atten- 
tion to stories or pictures of which he specially approved. 
Among the earliest of these were a note to accompany a repro- 
duction of his friend Gay's picture, The Last Supper, a very 
simple account of the incident depicted, and an article On 
Truth in Art, which served as preface to a book intended for 
children; these were followed by an important and discrim- 
inating preface to Guy de Maupassant's works which greatly 
interested Tolstoy, and by an appreciative preface to Seme- 
nov's Peasant Stories. After these came an essay On Art, in 
which Tolstoy attempted to deal with the general philosophy 
of the matter, but he was dissatisfied with this attempt and 
withheld it from publication till the matter had completely 
cleared itself up in his mind, and he had expressed it in 
What is Art? in a way that seemed to him adequate. 

When What is Art? appeared, Bernard Shaw wrote: "This 
book is a most effective booby trap. It is written with so 
utter a contempt for the objections which the routine critic is 
sure to allege against it that many a dilettantist reviewer has 
already accepted it as a butt set up by Providence. , . . Who- 



18 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ever is really conversant with art recognizes in it the voice 
of the master." And Mr. A. B. Walkley said : "This calmly 
and cogently reasoned effort to put art on a new basis is a 
literary event of the first importance." Now the "booby trap" 
of which Shaw speaks can be tried in this way. Induce some 
friend preferably one interested in art, or who has precon- 
ceived opinions on the subject, to read Tolstoy's book, and if 
you find that on reading it he concentrates on the dross he can 
find in it and devotes himself to points and examples he can 
disagree with, while remaining blind to the gold it contains, 
you have caught your booby! For there is much gold to be 
found in it, and the gold is more valuable than the dross. 

Before that (in 1893) he had published a preface to a 
translation of extracts from Amiel's Journal. Later he wrote 
prefaces to a Russian translation of W. von Polenz's German 
novel, Der Biittnerbauer (in 1902), and to Chekhov's story, 
Darling (in 1905), and notes to reproductions of Orlov's 
Pictures of Peasant Life (in 1909). 

Besides these, in his last years, he wrote his highly contro- 
versial article On Shakespeare, in 1906, of which one may 
say that, though he read English with facility, Tolstoy was 
not so at home in our language that he could be "enchanted 
by the mere word music that makes Shakespeare so irresistible 
in English," to borrow a phrase from Bernard Shaw. But 
Tolstoy's experience as a dramatist caused him to acknowl- 
edge that "the movement of feeling, its increase, alteration, 
and the combination of many contradictory feelings, are often 
expressed truly and strongly in some of Shakespeare's scenes. 
And when performed by good actors this evokes, at least for a 
time, sympathy with the characters presented. Shakespeare, 
himself an actor and a clever man, knew how to express not 
by speech only but by exclamations, gestures, and the repeti- 
tion of words, the spiritual conditions and variations of feel- 



A SURVEY 19 



ing that occur in the characters he presents in his plays. So, 
for instance, in many places Shakespeare's characters, instead 
of uttering words, only exclaim or weep, or in the middle of a 
monologue often show by a gesture the strain of their posi- 
tion (as when Lear says Tray you undo this button'), or in 
a moment of strong emotion they repeat a question, and cause 
a word that has struck them to be repeated, as is done by 
Othello, Macduff, Cleopatra, and others. Similar clever 
methods of revealing the movements of feeling, furnishing 
good actors with opportunities of showing their powers, have 
often been mistaken, and are mistaken, by many critics for 
the presentation of character." 

Apart from this practical mastery of stage-craft, which 
gives actors and actresses such great opportunities, Tolstoy 
denies the claims usually made on behalf of Shakespeare as a 
thinker or a faithful presenter of characters true to life. He 
gives reasons, examples, and instances, for his opinion, and 
if he is in error it should not be difficult for Shakespeare- 
lovers to furnish as closely reasoned a reply. All that need 
here be said is that, knowing what a strongly established 
opinion he was challenging, he perhaps emphasised his state- 
ment the more for moderation was never a characteristic 
of his. 

There is some indication that he was conscious of another 
side of the case, for once, when his friend, A. P. Chekhov, 
came to see him when he was ill in bed, he pressed the latter's 
hand at parting and said, "Good-bye, Anton* Pavlovich. 
You know how fond I am of you, and how I detest Shake- 
speare. Still, he did write plays better than you do." 

A Talk on the Drama has been added, which is taken from 
I. Teneromo's Life and Talks of L. N. Tolstoy (St. Peters- 
burg, undated, but c. 1907). This bears many signs of au- 
thenticity, corresponds with what one knows of Tolstoy's 



20 TOLSTOY ON ART 

views, and seems sufficiently interesting to justify its in- 
clusion. 

In an Appendix is given a translation of Chekhov's Dar- 
ling, that readers of Tolstoy's preface to that work may see 
what he was writing about. 




PART II 

SCHOOLBOYS AND ART 

The following account of Tolstoy's walk with boys from his school 
at Yasnaya Polyana is taken from Chapter VIII, The Schools, in 
Aylmer Maude's Life of Tolstoy, Volume 1, (Constable, London). 
It shows how Tolstoy, for the second time, found himself faced by 
the question: What is Art? which had arisen when he spoke to the 
Society of Lovers of Russian Literature. This time it was put to him 
by a ten-year-old peasant boy, and it then seemed to him that "we 
said all that can be said about utility and plastic and moral beauty." 

The classes generally finish about eight or nine o'clock 
(unless carpentering keeps the elder boys somewhat later), 
and the whole band run shouting into the yard, and there, call- 
ing to one another, begin to separate, making for different 
parts of the village. Occasionally they arrange to coast 
down-hill to the village in a large sledge that stands outside 
the gate. They tie up the shafts, throw themselves into it, 
and squealing, disappear from sight in a cloud of snow, 
leaving here and there on their path black patches of children 
who have tumbled out. In the open air, out of school (for 
all its freedom), new relations are formed between pupil and 
teacher: freer, simpler and more trustful those very relations 
which seem to us the ideal which School should aim at. 

Not long ago we read Gogol's story Viy * in the highest 
class. The final scenes affected them strongly, and excited 
their imagination. Some of them played the witch, and kept 
alluding to the last chapters. . . . 

iThe Viy is an Earth-Spirit, and Gogol's tale is gruesome. 

21 



22 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Out of doors it was a moonless winter night, with clouds in 
the sky, not cold. We stopped at the crossroads. The elder 
boys, in their third year at school, stopped near me asking 
me to accompany them further. The younger ones looked at 
us and rushed off down-hill. They had begun to learn with 
a new master, and between them and me there is not the same 
confidence as between the older boys and myself. 

"Well, let us go to the wood" (a small wood about one hun- 
dred and twenty yards from the house), said one of them. 
The most insistent was Fedka, a boy of ten, with a tender, 
receptive, poetic yet daring nature. Danger seems to form 
the chief condition of pleasure for him. In summer it always 
frightened me to see how he, with two other boys, would swim 
out into the very middle of the pond, which is nearly one 
hundred and twenty yards wide, and would now and then 
disappear in the hot reflection of the summer sun and swim 
under water; and how he would then turn on his back, caus- 
ing fountains of water to rise, and calling with his high- 
pitched voice to his comrades on the bank to see what a fine 
fellow he was. 

He now knew there were wolves in the wood, and so he 
wanted to go there. All agreed; and the four of us went to 
the wood. Another boy, a lad of twelve, physically and mor- 
ally strong, whom I will call Semka, went on in front and 
kept calling and "ah-ou-ing" with his ringing voice, to some 
one at a distance. Pronka, a sickly, mild, and very gifted 
lad, from a poor family (sickly probably chiefly from lack 
of food), walked by my side. Fedka walked between me and 
Semka, talking all the time in a particularly gentle voice: 
now relating how he had herded horses in summer, now say- 
ing there was nothing to be afraid of, and now asking, "Sup- 
pose one should jump out?" and insisting on my giving some 
reply. We did not go into the wood: that would have been 
too dreadful; but even where we were, near the wood, it was 




SCHOOLBOYS AND ART 23 

darker, the road was scarcely visible, and the lights of the 
village were hidden from view. Semka stopped and listened : 
"Stop, you fellows! What is this?" said he suddenly. 

We were silent and, though we heard nothing, things 
seemed to grow more gruesome. 

"What shall we do if it leaps out . . . and comes at us?" 
asked Fedka. 

We began to talk about Caucasian robbers. They remem- 
bered a Caucasian tale I had told them long ago, and I again 
told them of "braves," of Cossacks, and of Hadji Murad. 1 
Semka went on in front, treading boldly in his big boots, 
his broad back swaying regularly. Pronka tried to walk by 
my side, but Fedka pushed him off the path, and Pronka 
who, probably on account of his poverty, always submitted 
only ran up alongside at the most interesting passages, 
sinking in the snow up to his knees. 

Everyone who knows anything of Russian peasant children 
knows that they are not accustomed to, and cannot bear, any 
caresses, affectionate words, kisses, hand-touchings, and so 
forth. I have seen a lady in a peasant school, wishing to pet 
a boy, say: "Come, I will give you a kiss, dear ! " and actu- 
ally kiss him; and the boy was ashamed and offended, and 
could not understand why he had been so treated. Boys of 
five are already above such caresses they are no longer 
babies. I was therefore particularly struck when Fedka, 
walking beside me, at the most terrible part of the story sud- 
denly touched me lightly with his sleeve, and then clasped 
two of my fingers in his hand, and kept hold of them. As 
soon as I stopped speaking, Fedka demanded that I should 
go on, and did this in such a beseeching and agitated voice 
that it was impossible not to comply with his wish. 

"Now then, don't get in the way!" said he once angrily 

1 A daring leader of the hill-tribes, who was prominent at the time Tolstoy 
was serving in the Caucasus. 



24 TOLSTOY ON ART 

to Pronka, who had run in front of us. He was so carried 
away as even to be cruel ; so agitated yet happy was he, hold- 
ing on to my fingers, that he could let no one dare to interrupt 
his pleasure. 

"More ! More ! It is fine ! " said he. 

We had passed the wood and were approaching the village 
from the other end. 

"Let's go on," said all the boys when the lights became 
visible. "Let us take another turn! " 

We went on in silence, sinking here and there in the snow, 
not hardened by much traffic. A white darkness seemed to 
sway before our eyes; the clouds hung low, as though some- 
thing had heaped them upon us. There was no end to that 
whiteness, amid which we alone crunched along the snow. 
The wind sounded through the bare tops of the aspens, but 
where we were, behind the woods, it was calm. 

I finished my story by telling how a "brave," surrounded by 
his enemies, sang his death-song and threw himself on his 
dagger. All were silent. 

"Why did he sing a song when he was surrounded?" asked 
Semka. 

"Weren't you told? he was preparing for death!" replied 
Fedka, aggrieved. 

"I think he said a prayer," added Pronka. 

All agreed. Fedka suddenly stopped. 

"How was it, you told us, your Aunt had her throat cut?" 
asked he. (He had not yet had enough horrors.) "Tell us! 
Tell us!" 

I again told them that terrible story of the murder of the 
Countess Tolstoy, 1 and they stood silently about me watch- 
ing my face. 

"The fellow got caught! " said Semka. 

1 Some details of this crime are given in "Why do Men Stupefy Themselves?" 
in Essays and Letters, published in the World's Classics. 




SCHOOLBOYS AND ART 25 

e was afraid to go away in the night, while she was 
lying with her throat cut!" said Fedka; "I should have run 
away!" and he gathered my two fingers yet more closely in 
his hand. 

We stopped in the thicket beyond the threshing-floor at the 
very end of the village. Semka picked up a dry stick from 
the snow and began striking it against the frosty trunk of a 
lime tree. Hoar frost fell from the branches on to our caps, 
and the noise of the blows resounded in the stillness of the 
wood. 

"Lev Nikolaevich," said Fedka to me (I thought he was 
again going to speak about the Countess), "why does one 
learn singing? I often think, why, really, does one?" 

What made him jump from the terror of the murder to 
this question heaven only knows ; yet by the tone of his voice, 
the seriousness with which he demanded an answer, and the 
attentive silence of the other two, one felt that there was some 
vital and legitimate connection between this question and our 
preceding talk. Whether the connection lay in some response 
to my suggestion that crime might be explained by lack of 
education (I had spoken of that), or whether he was testing 
himself transferring himself into the mind of the murderer 
and remembering his own favourite occupation (he has a 
wonderful voice and immense musical talent), or whether 
the connection lay in the fact that he felt that now was the 
time for sincere conversation, and all the problems demand- 
ing solution rose in his mind at any rate his question sur- 
prised none of us. 

"And what is drawing for? And why write well?" said 
I, not knowing at all how to explain to him what art is 
for. 

"What is drawing for?" repeated he thoughtfully. He 
really was asking, What is Art for? And I neither dared nor 
could explain. 



26 TOLSTOY ON ART 

"What is drawing for?" said Semka. "Why, you draw 
anything, and can then make it from the drawing." 

"No, that is designing," said Fedka. "But why draw 
figures?" 

Semka's matter-of-fact mind was not perplexed. 

"What is a stick for, and what is a lime tree for?" &aid 
he, still striking the tree. 

"Yes, what is a lime tree for?" said I. 

"To make rafters of," replied Semka. 

"But what is it for in summer, when not yet cut down?" 

"It's no use then." 

"No, really," insisted Fedka; "why does a lime tree grow?" 

And we began to speak of the fact that not everything 
exists for use, but that there is also beauty, and that Art is 
beauty; and we understood one another, and Fedka quite 
understood why the lime tree grows and what singing is 
for. 

Pronka agreed with us, but he thought rather of moral 
beauty: goodness. 

Semka understood with his big brain, but did not acknowl- 
edge beauty apart from usefulness. He was in doubt (as 
often happens to men with great reasoning power) : feeling 
Art to be a force, but not feeling in his soul the need of that 
force. He, like them, wished to get at Art by his reason, and 
tried to kindle that fire in himself. 

"We'll sing Who hath to-morrow. I remember my part," 
said he. (He has a correct ear, but no taste or refinement in 
singing.) Fedka, however, fully understood that the lime 
tree is good when in leaf: good to look at in summer; and that 
that is enough. 

Pronka understood that it is a pity to cut it down, because 
it, too, has life: 

"Why, when we take the sap of a lime, it's like taking 
blood." 



SCHOOLBOYS AND ART 27 

Semka, though he did not say so, evidently thought that 
there was little use in a lime when it was sappy. 

It feels strange to repeat what we then said, but it seems 
to me that we said all that can be said about utility, and 
plastic and moral beauty. 

We went on to the village. Fedka still clung to my hand ; 
now, it seemed to me, from gratitude. We all were nearer 
one another that night than we had been for a long time. 
Pronka walked beside us along the broad village street. 

"See, there is still a light in Masanov's house," said he. 
"As I was going to school this morning, Gavruka was com- 
ing from the pub, as dru-u-nk as could be ! His horse all in 
a lather and he beating it! I am always sorry for such 
things. Really, why should it be beaten?" 

"And the other day, coming from Tula, my daddy gave 
his horse the reins," said Semka; "and it took him into a 
snowdrift, and there he slept quite drunk." 

"And Gavruka kept on beating his horse over the eyes, 
and I felt so sorry," repeated Pronka again. "Why should 
he beat it? He got down and just flogged it." 

Semka suddenly stopped. 

"Our folk are already asleep," said he, looking in at the 
window of his crooked, dirty hut. "Won't you walk a little 
longer?" 

"No." 

"Go-o-od-bye, Lev Nikolaevich ! " shouted he suddenly, 
and tearing himself away from us as it were with an effort, 
he ran to the house, lifted the latch and disappeared. 

"So you will take each of us home? First one and then 
the other?" said Fedka. 

We went on. There was a light in Pronka's hut, and we 
looked in at the window. His mother, a tall and handsome 
but toil-worn woman, with black eyebrows and eyes, sat at 
the table, peeling potatoes. In the middle of the hut hung 



28 TOLSTOY ON ART 

a cradle. Pronka 's brother, the mathematician from our 
second class, was standing at the table, eating potatoes with 
salt. It was a black, tiny, and dirty hut. 

"What a plague you are!" shouted the mother at Pronka. 
"Where have you been?" 

Pronka glanced at the window with a meek, sickly smile. 
His mother guessed that he had not come alone, and her face 
immediately assumed a feigned expression that was un- 
pleasant. 

Only Fedka was left. 

"The travelling tailors are at our house, that is why there's 
a light there," said he in the softened voice that had come to 
him that evening. "Good-bye, Lev Nikolaevich ! " added 
he, softly and tenderly, and he began to knock with the ring 
attached to the closed door. "Let me in!" his high-pitched 
voice rang out amid the winter stillness of the village. It 
was long before they opened the door for him. I looked in 
at the window. The hut was a large one. The father was 
playing cards with a tailor, and some copper coins lay on 
the table. The wife, Fedka's stepmother, was sitting near the 
torch-stand, looking eagerly at the money. The young tailor, 
a cunning drunkard, was holding his cards on the table, bend- 
ing them, and looking triumphantly at his opponent. Fedka's 
father, the collar of his shirt unbuttoned, his brow wrinkled 
with mental exertion and vexation, changed one card for 
another, and waved his horny hand in perplexity above them. 

"Let me in!" 

The woman rose and went to the door. 

"Good-bye! " repeated Fedka, once again. "Let us always 
have such walks!" 



PART III 
THE LAST SUPPER 

Letter-press to accompany a Half-tone Reproduction of 
N. N. Gay's Picture, "The Last Supper." 

John XIII, v. 1-35 inclusive. 

Jesus said: "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt 
love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto 
you, Love your enemies ..." 

At the last supper Jesus showed this by his acts. 

Having washed the feet of his twelve disciples, he said: 
"I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I 
have done to you." 

What had Jesus done, and what was the example he gave 
to his disciples? 

When after supper Jesus began to wash the feet of his 
disciples and Simon Peter wished to oppose it, Jesus said to 
him: "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt 
understand hereafter. Ye are clean but not all." 

Neither Simon Peter nor the other disciples then under- 
stood why he said this. Only Judas Iscariot understood 
what Jesus was doing when, kneeling before him, he washed 
his feet. 

Having washed the feet of his betrayer, Jesus rose, put on 
his garment, and having again sat down, said: "Know ye 
what I have done to you? Ye call me Master, and ye say 
well; for so I am." 

But they, not knowing that Judas was a traitor, did not 

29 



30 TOLSTOY ON ART 

understand what he had done and what he was teaching 
them. 

Then, being troubled in spirit, Jesus said: "Verily, verily, 
I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me." 

And again they did not understand what he was doing or 
what he was saying to them. They only looked at one an- 
other seeking to discover of whom he spoke. 

Meanwhile the beloved disciple of Jesus was reclining on 
his bosom. And Simon Peter, raising himself, beckoned to 
the beloved disciple that he should ask the teacher of whom 
he spoke. 

And the beloved disciple, leaning back on Jesus' breast, 
asked him. 

But Jesus did not give a direct reply, knowing that if he 
named his enemy the disciples would be indignant and would 
want to punish the traitor. 

Wishing not to destroy but to save Judas, Jesus, instead of 
replying, reached out his hand, took a piece of bread, and 
said softly: "He it is for whom I shall dip the sop and 
give it him," and when he had given the sop to Judas he 
said: "What thou doest do quickly." 

The disciples, having heard this, thought that Jesus was 
sending Judas into the town to buy what was needed for the 
feast. 

But Judas understood that Jesus was saving him from the 
wrath of the disciples, and immediately arose. 

That is what is shown in the picture. 

The beloved disciple, John, is the only one who knows who 
is the traitor. 

He leaps up from his seat and stares at Judas. He does 
not understand, does not believe that a living man can hate 
one who so loves him. He is sorry for the unfortunate man 
and terrified for him. Simon Peter guesses the truth from 



* 



THE LAST SUPPER 31 



ohn's look, and turns his eyes now on John, now on Jesus, 
and now on the betrayer; and in his ardent heart anger and 
desire to defend his beloved teacher flame up. 

Judas has risen, gathered up his garment, thrown it around 
him, and taken the first step, but his eyes cannot turn away 
from the saddened face of the teacher. There is still time. 
He can still turn back and fall at his feet confessing his sin, 
but the devil already possesses his heart. 

"Do not submit! " he says to him. "Do not yield to weak- 
ness, do not subject yourself to reproaches from the proud 
disciples. They are looking at you and only awaiting a 
chance to humiliate you. Go!" 

Jesus lies leaning on his arm. He is not looking, but sees 
all, and knows what is going on in Judas' heart, and he waits 
and suffers on his account. He pities the son of perdition. 
Jesus with his own hand has fed his enemy, washed his feet, 
saved him from human punishment, and until the end calls 
him to repentance and forgives him. Yet Judas does not 
return to him. 

And Jesus grieves for Judas, and for all who do not come 
to him. 

Judas went out and hid himself in the darkness of the 
night. 

Hardly had the door closed before the disciples all realized 
who the betrayer was. They are agitated and indignant. 
Peter wants to run after him. But Jesus raises his head and 
says: "Little children, yet a little while I am with 
you. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one 
another; even as I have loved you, that ye love one another. 
By this shall it be known that ye are my disciples, if ye have 
love one to another." And only then did Simon Peter and 
the other ten understand what Jesus had done. Only then 
did they understand that having all his life long shown them 



32 TOLSTOY ON ART 

an example of love of one's neighbour, he has now given an 
example of love of one's enemy. 

To the last moment he loved and pitied Judas, his enemy, 
called him to himself and despite his unrepentance saved him 
from the anger of the disciples. 



PART IV 
ON TRUTH IN ART 

Preface to a Miscellany, "The Flower Garden," for Children. 

"O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? 
for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good 
man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things: and the evil 
man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto 
you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account 
thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, 
and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matt, xii, 34-37.) 

In this book besides stories in which true occurrences are 
narrated there are also stories, traditions, proverbs, legends, 
fables, and fairy tales, that have been composed and written 
for man's benefit. 

We have chosen such as we consider to be in accord 
with Christ's teaching, and therefore regard as good and 
truthful. 

Many people, especially children, when reading a story, 
fairy-tale, legend, or fable, ask first of all: "Is it true?" 
and if they see that what is described could not have hap- 
pened, they often say: "Oh, this is mere fancy, it isn't 
true." 

Those who judge so, judge amiss. 

Truth will be known not by him who knows only what 
has been, is, and really happens, but by him who recognizes 
what should be, according to the will of God. 

He does not write the truth who describes only what has 
happened, and what this or that man has done, but he who 
shows what people do that is right, that is, in accord with 

33 



34 TOLSTOY ON ART 

God's will, and what people do wrong, that is, contrary to 
God's will. 

Truth is a path. Christ said, "I am the way, the truth 
and the life." 

And so he will not know the truth who looks down at his 
feet, but he who discerns by the sun which way to go. 

All verbal compositions are good and necessary not when 
they describe what has happened, but when they show what 
ought to be; not when they tell what people have done, but 
when they set a value on what is good and evil when they 
show men the narrow path of God's will, which leads to life. 

And in order to show that path one must not describe merely 
what happens in the world. The world abides in evil and is 
full of offence. If one is to describe the world as it is, one 
will describe much evil and the truth will be lacking. In 
order that there may be truth in what one describes, it is 
necessary to write not about what is, but about what should 
be; to write not the truth of what is, but of the kingdom of 
God which is drawing nigh unto us, but is not as yet. That 
is why there are mountains of books in which we are told 
what really has happened or might have happened, yet they 
are all false if those who write them do not themselves know 
what is good and what is evil, and do not know and do not 
show the one path which leads to the kingdom of God. And 
there are fairy-tales, parables, fables, legends in which mar- 
vellous things are described which never happened, or ever 
could happen, and these legends, fairy-tales and fables are 
true because they show wherein the will of God has always 
been, and is, and will be : they show the truth of the kingdom 
of God. 

There may be a book, and there are indeed many novels and 
stories, that describe how a man lives for his passions, suffers, 
torments others, endures danger and want, schemes, strug- 
gles with others, escapes from his poverty, and at last is 



TRUTH IN ART 35 

united with the object of his love and becomes distinguished, 
rich, and happy. Such a book, even if everything described 
in it really happened, and though there were in it nothing im- 
probable, would nevertheless be false and untrue, because a 
man who lives for himself and his passions, however beautiful 
his wife may be and however distinguished and rich he be- 
comes, cannot be happy. 

And there may be a legend of how Christ and his apostles 
walked on earth and went to a rich man, and the rich man 
would not receive him, and they went to a poor widow, and 
she received him. And then he commanded a barrel full of 
gold to roll to the rich man and sent a wolf to the poor widow 
to eat up her last calf, and it might prove a blessing for the 
widow, and be bad for the rich man. 

Such a story is totally improbable, because nothing of what 
is described ever happened or could happen ; but it may all be 
true because in it is shown what always should be what is 
good and what is evil, and what a man should strive after in 
order to do the will of God. 

No matter what wonders are described, or what animals 
may talk in human language, what flying carpets may carry 
people from place to place, the legends, parables, or fairy- 
tales will be true if there is in them the truth of the kingdom 
of God. And if that truth is lacking, then everything 
described, however well attested, will be false, because 
it lacks the truth of the kingdom of God. Christ himself 
spoke in parables, and his parables have remained eternally 
true. He only added, "Take heed, how ye hear." 



PART V * 
WHAT IS TRUTH? 

It was in 1890 that N. N. Gay painted the well-known pic- 
ture of Tolstoy in his room at Yasnaya Polyana. 

The picture which aroused most interest at Yasnaya that 
year, however, was not a portrait of Tolstoy, but Gay's 
"What is Truth?" which had been exhibited in Petersburg 
early in the year and prohibited. After being exhibited pri- 
vately, Gay brought it to show to Tolstoy, on whom it made 
a deep impression. 

Already in January, when Gay had sent him a drawing 
of it, Tolstoy had written to him : 

"I am always thinking about you and your picture. I am longing to 
hear how it is received. I am troubled over the figure of Pilate which, 
with that arm, seems wrong somehow. I don't say it is, I only ask. If the 
connoisseurs say that that figure is correct, I shall be satisfied. About 
the rest I know, and have no need to ask anyone's opinion." 

Though Tolstoy knew very well that Pilate's arm was not 
well drawn, he was immensely pleased with the treat- 
ment of the subject and the thought and feeling expressed. 
Feinermann tells us: 

"Leo Tolstoy, when he saw that painting, was so shaken and agitated 
that for days after he could hardly speak of anything else. 

'I am in raptures,' he said. That's a master! I confess that I my- 
self only now understand the deep and true meaning of that short pas- 
sage which always appeared to me, as it has to all the Bible commenta- 
tors, unfinished and abrupt. Pilate asked, "What is Truth?" and then 
went out to the crowd without waiting for a reply. And everybody reads 

1 From The Life of Tolstoy Vol II, by Aylmer Maude. 

36 




"WHAT IS TRUTH?" 

After a painting by N. N. Gay, 1890 



WHAT IS TRUTH? 37 

and understands it that way. But this picture gives a different inter- 
pretation. Pilate does not ask what truth is, expecting a reply. No! 
in the form of a question he contemptuously replies! When Christ says 
that he has come into the world as a witness of Truth, Pilate with a 
laugh and a contemptuous gesture throws the words carelessly at him: 
"And what is Truth? Truth is a relative thing; everybody takes it his 
own way!" and, evidently considering his retort decisive, he went out to 
the crowd. That is the light in which the moment is seized. It is new, 
it is profound, and how strongly and clearly the picture expresses it! 
That fat shaven neck of the Roman Governor, that half-turned, large, 
well-fed, sensual body, that out-stretched arm with its gesture of con- 
tempt are all splendid it is alive. It breathes and impresses itself 
on the memory for ever. And the face . . . Together with all the dig- 
nity of that Roman figure there goes a slavish anxiety about himself: 
the mean trepidation of a petty soul. He is afraid he may be denounced 
at Rome . . . And this smallness of soul is wonderfully caught by Gay, 
and notwithstanding the toga, and his height, and his majestic pose, 
Pilate appears so petty before the wornout sufferer who has undergone 
during the night arrest, judgment, and insults. ... A wonderful pict- 
ure! That is the way to paint!' 

"Gay, touched and deeply moved by Tolstoy's delight, embraced and 
kissed him, and said: 'Do not praise it . . . You will praise me so 
that I shall become proud. I am afraid of that. ... I shan't be able 
to paint I'" 



PART VI 
INTRODUCTION TO AMIEL'S "JOURNAL." 

About eighteen months ago I chanced for the first time 
to read Amiel's book, Fragments d'un journal intime. I was 
struck by the importance and profundity of its contents, the 
beauty of its presentation, and above all by the sincerity of 
this book. 

While reading it I marked the passages which specially 
struck me. My daughter 1 undertook to translate these pas- 
sages and in this way these extracts from Fragments d'un 
journal intime were formed: that is to say, they are extracts 
from the whole many-volumed diary Amiel wrote day 
by day during thirty years, much of which remained un- 
printed. 

Henri Amiel was born at Geneva in 1821, and was soon 
left an orphan. Having completed a course of higher edu- 
cation at Geneva, Amiel went abroad and spent some years 
at the universities of Heidelberg and Berlin. Returning in 
1849 to his native land he, a young man of 28, obtained a 
professorship at the Geneva Academy, first of Esthetics and 
afterwards of Philosophy, which he held till his death. 

Amiel's whole life was passed at Geneva, where he died 
in 1881, in no way distinguished from the large number of 
those ordinary professors who, mechanically compiling their 
lectures from the latest books on their specialities, pass them 
on in an equally mechanical way to their hearers, and from 
the yet greater number of writers of verse lacking in sub- 

1 That is, Marya Lvovna, Tolstoy's second daughter, who was devoted both 
to her father and to his teachings. 

38 




AMIEL'S "JOURNAL" 39 

stance, who supply these wares, which though no one needs 
them are still sold by tens of thousands in the periodicals 
that are published. 

Amiel had not the slightest success either in the academic 
or literary field. When he was already approaching old age 
he wrote of himself as follows: 

"What have I been able to extract from the gifts bestowed 
upon me, and from the special circumstances of my life of 
half-a-century? What have I drawn from my soil? Is all 
my scribbling collected together my correspondence, these 
thousands of sincere pages, my lectures, my articles, my 
verses, my various memoranda anything but a collection of 
dry leaves? To whom and for what have I been of use? 
And will my name live for even a day after me, and will it 
have any meaning for anyone? An insignificant, empty life! 
Vie nulle!" 

Two well-known French authors have written on Amiel 
and his Journal since his death his friend, the well-known 
critic, E. Scherer, and the philosopher Caro. It is interest- 
ing to note the sympathetic but rather patronizing tone in 
which both these writers refer to Amiel, regretting that he 
lacked the qualities necessary for the production of real 
works. Yet the real works of these two writers the critical 
works of Scherer and the philosophical works of Caro will 
hardly long outlive their authors, while the accidental, unreal 
work of Amiel, his Journal, will always remain a living book, 
needed by men and fruitfully affecting them. 

For a writer is precious and necessary for us only to the 
extent to which he reveals to us the inner labour of his soul 
supposing, of course, that his work is new and has not been 
done before. Whatever he may write a play, a learned 
work, a story, a philosophic treatise, lyric verse, a criticism, a 
satire what is precious to us in an author's work is only 
that inner labour of his soul, and not the architectural struc- 



40 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ture in which usually, and I think always, distorting it, he 
packs his thoughts and feelings. 

All that Amiel poured into a ready mould: his lectures, 
treatises, poems, are dead; but his Journal, where, without 
thinking of the form, he only talked to himself, is full of 
life, wisdom, instruction, consolation, and will ever remain 
one of those best of all books which have been left to us 
accidentally by such men as Marcus Aurelius, Pascal, and 
Epictetus. 

Pascal says: "There are only three kinds of people: those 
who, having found God, serve Him; those who, not having 
found Him, are engaged in seeking Him, and those who, 
though they have not found Him, do not seek Him. 

"The first are sensible and happy; the last are senseless 
and unhappy; the second are unhappy, but sensible." 

I think that the contrast Pascal makes between the first 
and the second groups, between those who, as he says in an- 
other place, having found God, serve Him with their whole 
heart, and those who, not having found Him, seek Him with 
their whole heart, is not only not so great as he thought, but 
does not exist at all. I think that those who with their whole 
heart and with suffering (en gemissant, as Pascal says) 
seek God, are already serving Him. They are serving Him 
because by the suffering they endure in their search they 
are laying, and revealing to others, the road to God, as Pascal 
himself did in his Pensees, and as Amiel did all his life in 
his Journal. 

Amiel's whole life, as presented to us in this Journal, is 
full of this suffering and whole-hearted search for God. And 
the contemplation of this search is the more instructive be- 
cause it never ceases to be a search, never becomes settled, 
and never passes into a consciousness of having attained the 
truth, or into a teaching. Amiel is not saying either to him- 
self or to others, "I now know the truth hear me!" On the 



AMIEL'S "JOURNAL" 41 

contrary it seems to him, as is natural to one who is sincerely 
seeking truth, that the more he knows the more he needs to 
know, and he unceasingly does all he can to learn more and 
more of truth, and is therefore constantly aware of his ignor- 
ance. He is continually speculating on what Christianity 
and the condition of a Christian should be, never for a mo- 
ment pausing on the thought that Christianity is the very 
thing that he is professing, and that he is himself realizing 
the condition of a Christian. And yet the whole Journal 
is full of expressions of the most profound Christian under- 
standing and feeling. And these expressions act on the 
reader with special force just by their unconsciousness and 
sincerity. He is talking to himself, not thinking that he is 
overheard, neither attempting to appear convinced of what 
he is not convinced of, nor hiding his sufferings and his 
search. 

It is as if one were present without a man's knowledge at 
the most secret, profound, impassioned inner working of his 
soul, usually hidden from an outsider's view. 

And therefore while one may find many more shapely 
and elegant expressions of religious feeling than Amiel's, it 
is difficult to find any more intimate or more heart-searching. 
Not long before his death, knowing that his illness might 
any day end in strangulation, he wrote: 

"When you no longer dream that you have at your disposal 
tens of years, a year, or a month, when you already reckon 
in tens of hours and the coming night brings with it the menace 
of the unknown, obviously one renounces art, science, poli- 
tics, and is content to talk with oneself, and that is possible up 
to the very end. This inner conversation is the only thing 
left to him who is sentenced to death but whose execution 
is delayed. He (this condemned man) concentrates within 
himself. He no longer emits rays, but only talks with his 
own soul. He no longer acts, but contemplates . . . Like 



44 TOLSTOY ON ART 

touches me. A village youth comes to Moscow to find a 
place and, helped by a coachman from his part of the country 
who is living with a rich merchant, he gets a job as the yard- 
porter's assistant. This place had previously been held by 
an old man. The merchant, by his coachman's advice, had 
discharged the old man and taken the lad in his place. The 
lad comes in the evening to begin his service, and standing 
in the yard he hears the old man complain in the porter's 
lodge that through no fault of his he has been dismissed, 
merely to give place to a younger man. The lad suddenly 
feels pity for the old man and is ashamed to have pushed 
him out. He considers the matter, hesitates, and finally 
decides to give up the situation which he needs so much and 
would have been so glad to take. 

All this is told in such a way that every time I read it I 
feel that the author would not only have wished to, but cer- 
tainly would, have acted in that way under similar circum- 
stances; his feelings infect me and I feel pleased, and it 
seems to me that I too should have done, or have been ready 
to do, something good. 

Sincerity is Semenov's chief merit. But besides that, his 
content is always important: important because it relates to 
the most important class in Russia, the peasantry, whom 
Semenov knows as only a peasant can know them who him- 
self lives in the laborious village; and the content of his 
stories is also important because, in them all, the chief interest 
is not in external events or in the peculiarity of the life, but 
in the way men approach or fall away from the ideal of 
Christian truth, which is present clearly and firmly in the 
author's soul and supplies him with a safe standard and ap- 
praisement of the quality and importance of human actions. 
The form of the stories fully corresponds to their content: it 
is serious and simple, the details are always correct, and there 



SEMENOV'S PEASANT STORIES 45 

are no false notes. What is particularly good is the language, 
often quite original in its expressions, but always natural and 
strikingly strong and picturesque, in which the characters of 
the story speak. 



PART VIII 

INTRODUCTION TO THE WORKS OF GUY DE 
MAUPASSANT 

(This article was written by Tolstoy in 1894, to serve as preface to a Russian 
edition of a selection of Guy de Maupassant's stories.) 

It was, I think, in 1881 that Turgenev while visiting me 
took out of his portmanteau a small French book entitled 
La Maison Tellier, and gave it to me. 

"Read it some time," said he in an off-hand way just as, 
a year before, he had given me a number of Russian Wealth 
that contained an article by Garshin, who was then only be- 
ginning to write. Evidently on this occasion, as in Garshin's 
case, he was afraid of influencing me one way or the other 
and wished to know my own unbiassed opinion. 

"It is by a young French writer," said he. "Have a look at 
it. It isn't bad. He knows you and appreciates you highly," 
he added as if wishing to propitiate me. "As a man he re- 
minds me of Druzhinin. He is, like Druzhinin, an excellent 
son, an admirable friend, un homme d'un commerce sur, 1 and, 
besides that, he associates with the working people, guides 
them, and helps them. Even in his relations with women 
he reminds me of Druzhinin." And Turgenev told me some- 
thing astonishing, incredible, of Maupassant's conduct in that 
respect. 

That time ( 1881 ) was for me a period of most ardent inner 
reconstruction of my whole outlook on life, and in this re- 
construction the activity called the fine arts, to which I had 
formerly devoted all my powers, had not only lost the im- 

1 A reliable man. 

46 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 47 

portance I formerly attributed to it, but had become sim- 
ply obnoxious to me on account of the unnatural position it 
had hitherto occupied in my life, as it does generally in the 
estimation of the people of the well-to-do classes. 

And therefore such works as the one Turgenev was recom- 
mending to me did not then interest me in the least. But to 
please him I read the book he had handed me. 

From the first story, La Maison Tellier, despite the in- 
decency and insignificance of the subject of the story, I could 
not help recognizing that the author had what is called talent. 

He possessed that particular gift called talent, which con- 
sists in the capacity to direct intense concentrated attention ac- 
cording to the author's tastes on this or that subject, in con- 
sequence of which the man endowed with this capacity sees 
in the things to which he directs his attention some new aspect 
which others have overlooked; and this gift of seeing what 
others have not seen Maupassant evidently possessed. But 
judging by the little volume I read, he unfortunately lacked 
the chief of the three conditions, besides talent, essential to a 
true work of art. These are : ( 1 ) a correct, that is, a moral 
relation of the author to his subject; (2) clearness of expres- 
sion, or beauty of form, the two are identical; and (3) 
sincerity, that is, a sincere feeling of love or hatred of what 
the artist depicts. Of these three, Maupassant possessed 
only the two last and was quite lacking in the first. He had 
not a correct, that is a moral, relation to the subjects depicted. 

Judging by what I read I was convinced that Maupassant 
possessed talent, that is to say, the gift of attention reveal- 
ing in the objects and facts of life with which he deals quali- 
ties others have not perceived. He was also master of a 
beautiful style, expressing what he wanted to say clearly, 
simply, and with charm. He was also master of that condi- 
tion of true artistic production without which a work of art 
does not produce its effect, namely, sincerity; that is, he did 



48 TOLSTOY ON ART 

not pretend that he loved or hated, but really loved or hated 
what he described. But unfortunately lacking the first and 
perhaps the chief condition of worthy artistic production, a 
correct moral relation to what he described that is to say, a 
knowledge of the difference between good and evil he loved 
and described things that should not have been loved and de- 
scribed. Thus, in this little volume, the author described with 
great detail and fondness how women seduce men, and men 
women; and in La femme de Paul he even describes certain 
obscenities difficult to understand. And he presents the coun- 
try labouring folk not merely with indifference but even with 
contempt, as though they were animals. 

This unconsciousness of the difference between good and 
evil is particularly striking in the story, JJne partie de cam- 
pagne, in which is given, as a very pleasant and amusing 
joke, a detailed description of how two men rowing with bare 
arms in a boat tempt and afterwards seduce at the same time, 
one of them an elderly mother and the other a young girl, her 
daughter. 

The sympathy of the author is evidently all the time so 
much on the side of these two wretches that he not merely 
ignores, but simply does not see, what must have been felt 
by the seduced mother and the maid (her daughter), by the 
father, and by a young man who is evidently engaged to the 
daughter; and therefore, not merely is an objectionable de- 
scription of a revolting crime presented in the form of an 
amusing jest, but the occurrence itself is described falsely, for 
what is given is only one side, and that the most insignificant 
namely, the pleasure received by the rascals. 

In that same little volume there is a story, Histoire d'une 
fille de ferme, which Turgenev particularly recommended 
to me and which particularly displeased me, again by this 
incorrect relation of the author to his subject. He evidently 
sees in all the working folk he describes mere animals, who 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 49 

rise to nothing more than sexual and maternal love, so that 
his descriptions give one an incomplete and artificial 
impression. 

Lack of understanding of the life and interests of work- 
ing people and the presentation of them as semi-brutes moved 
only by sensuality, spite, and greed, is one of the chief and 
most important defects of most recent French writers, includ- 
ing Maupassant, who not only in this but in all his other 
stories where he refers to the people, always describes them as 
coarse, dull animals at whom one can only laugh. Of course 
the French writers should know the nature of their own people 
better than I do ; but despite the fact that I am a Russian and 
have not lived among the French peasants, I nevertheless 
affirm that in so representing their people the French authors 
are wrong, and that the French labourers cannot be such as 
they represent them to be. If France such as we know 
her, with her truly great men and the great contributions 
those great men have made to science, art, citizenship, and 
the moral development of mankind if this France exists, 
then that working class which has maintained and maintains 
on its shoulders this France with its great men, must consist 
not of brutes but of people with great spiritual qualities, and 
I therefore do not believe what I read in novels such as 
La terre l and in Maupassant's stories ; just as I should not 
believe it if I were told of the existence of a beautiful house 
standing without foundations. It may very well be these high 
qualities of the people are not such as are described to us in 
La petite Fadette and La mere aux diables, 2 but I am firmly 
convinced that these qualities exist, and a writer who por- 
trays the people only as Maupassant does, describing with 
sympathy only the hanches and gorges 3 of the Breton servant- 

1 By Zola. 

2 Stories by Georges Sand. 

3 Hips and throats. 



50 TOLSTOY ON ART 

girls and describing with detestation and ridicule the life of 
the labouring men, commits a great artistic mistake, because 
he describes his subject only from one, and that the least in- 
teresting, physical, side and leaves quite out of sight another, 
and the most important, spiritual, side wherein the essence of 
the matter lies. 

On the whole, the perusal of the little book handed me by 
Turgenev left me quite indifferent to the young writer. 

So repugnant to me were the stories, Une partie de cam- 
pagne, La femme de Paul, L'historie d'une fille de ferine, that 
I did not then notice the beautiful story, Le papa de Simon, 
and the story, excellent in its description of the night, Sur 
Veau. 

"Are there not in our time, when so many people want to 
write, plenty of men of talent who do not know to what to 
apply this gift, or who boldly apply it to what should not, 
and need not, be described?" thought I. And so I said to 
Turgenev, and thereupon forgot about Maupassant. 

The first thing of his that fell into my hands after that 
was Une Vie, which someone advised me to read. That book 
at once compelled me to change my opinion of Maupassant, 
and since then I have read with interest everything signed by 
him. Une Vie is excellent, not only incomparably the best 
of his novels, but perhaps the best French novel since Hugo's 
Les Miserables. Here, besides remarkable talent that spe- 
cial strenuous attention applied to the subject, by which the 
author perceives quite new features in the life he describes 
are united in almost equal degree all three qualities of a true, 
work of art, first, a correct, that is a moral, relation of the 
author to his subject; secondly, beauty of form; and thirdly, 
sincerity, that is, love of what the author describes. Here the 
meaning of life no longer presents itself to the author as 
consisting in the adventures of various male and female 
libertines; here the subject, as the title indicates, is life the 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 51 

life of a ruined, innocent, amiable woman, predisposed to 
all that is good, but ruined by precisely the same coarse animal 
sensuality which in his former stories the author presented 
as if it were the central feature of life, dominant over all 
else. And in this book the author's whole sympathy is on 
the side of what is good. 

The form, which was beautiful in the first stories, is here 
brought to such a pitch of perfection as, in my opinion, has 
been attained by no other French writer of prose. And above 
all, the author here really loves, and deeply loves, the good 
family he describes; and he really hates that coarse debauchee, 
who destroys the happiness and peace of that charming fam- 
ily and, in particular, ruins the life of the heroine. 

That is why all the events and characters of this novel 
are so life-like and memorable. The weak, kindly, debili- 
tated mother; the upright, weak, attractive father; the daugh- 
ter, still more attractive in her simplicity, artlessness, and 
sympathy with all that is good; their mutual relations, their 
first journey, their servants and neighbours; the calculating, 
grossly sensual, mean, petty, insolent suitor, who as usual 
deceives the innocent girl by the customary empty idealization 
of the foulest instincts ; the marriage, Corsica with the beauti- 
ful descriptions of nature, and then village life, the husband's 
coarse faithlessness, his seizure of power over the property, 
his quarrel with his father-in-law, the yielding of the good 
people and the victory of insolence; the relations with the 
neighbours all this is life itself in its complexity and va- 
riety. And not only is all this vividly and finely described, 
but the sincere pathetic tone of it all involuntarily infects 
the reader. One feels that the author loves this woman, and 
loves her not for her external form but for her soul, for the 
goodness there is in her ; that he pities her and surfers on her 
account, and this feeling is involuntarily communicated to 
the reader. And the questions; Why, for what end, is this 



52 TOLSTOY ON ART 

fine creature ruined ? Ought it indeed to be so ? arise of them- 
selves in the reader's soul, and compel him to reflect on the 
meaning of human life. 

Despite the false notes which occur in the novel, such as 
the minute description of the young girl's skin, or the im- 
possible and unnecessary details of how, by the advice of 
an abbe, the forsaken wife again became a mother details 
which destroy all the charm of the heroine's purity and 
despite the melodramatic and unnatural story of the injured 
husband's revenge; notwithstanding these blemishes, the novel 
not only seemed to me excellent, but I saw behind it no longer 
a talented chatterer and jester who neither knew nor wished 
to know right from wrong as from his first little book Mau- 
passant had appeared to me to be but a serious man penetrat- 
ing deeply into life and already beginning to see his way in it. 

The next novel of Maupassant's that I read was Bel- Ami. 

Bel- Ami is a very dirty book. The author evidently gives 
himself a free hand in describing what attracts him, and at 
times seems to lose his main negative attitude towards his 
hero and to pass over to his side: but on the whole Bel-Ami, 
like Une Vie, has at its base a serious idea and sentiment. 
In Une Vie the fundamental idea is perplexity in face of the 
cruel meaninglessness of the suffering life of an excellent 
woman ruined by a man's coarse sensuality; whereas here it 
is not only perplexity, but indignation, at the prosperity and 
success of a coarse, sensual brute who by that very sensual- 
ity makes his career and attains a high position in society; 
and indignation also at the depravity of the whole sphere in 
which the hero attains his success. In the former novel the 
author seems to ask: "For what, and why, was a fine 
creature ruined? Why did it happen?" Here in the latter 
novel he seems to answer: all that is pure and good has per- 
ished and is perishing in our society, because that society 
is depraved, senseless, and horrible. 




GUY DE MAtTPASSANT 53 

The last scene in the novel the marriage in a fashionable 
church of the triumphant scoundrel, decorated with the Legion 
of Honour, to the pure girl, the daughter of an elderly and 
formerly irreproachable mother whom he had seduced; a 
wedding blessed by a bishop and regarded as something good 
and proper by everybody expresses this idea with extraor- 
dinary force. In this novel, despite the fact that it is en- 
cumbered with dirty details (in which it is to be regretted that 
the author seems to find pleasure) the same serious demands 
are presented to life. 

Read the conversation of the old poet with Duroy when 
after dinner, if I remember rightly, they are leaving the 
Walters. The old poet bares life to his young companion, 
and shows it as it is, with its eternal and inevitable con- 
comitant and end death. 

"She has hold of me already, la gueuse," l says he of death. 
"She has already shaken out my teeth, torn out my hair, crip- 
pled my limbs, and is now ready to swallow me. I am al- 
ready in her power. She is only playing with me, as a cat 
does with a mouse, knowing that I cannot escape. Fame? 
Riches? What is the use of them, since they cannot buy a 
woman's love? For it is only a woman's love that makes 
life worth living, and that too death takes away. It takes 
that away, and then one's health, strength, and life itself. 
It is the same for everyone, and there is nothing else." 

Such is the meaning of what the old poet says. But Duroy, 
the successful lover of all the women who please him, is so 
full of sensual energy and strength that he hears and does 
not hear, understands and does not understand, the old poet's 
words. He hears and understands, but the source of sensual 
life throbs in him so strongly that this unquestionable truth, 
foretelling the same end for him, does not disturb him. 

This inner contradiction, besides its satirical value, gives 

l The old hag. 



54 TOLSTOY ON ART 

the novel its chief significance. The same idea gleams in 
the fine scenes of the death of the consumptive journalist. 
The author sets himself the question: What is this life? 
How solve the contradiction between the love of life, and the 
knowledge of inevitable death? He seems to seek, pauses, 
and does not decide either one way or the other. And there- 
fore the moral relation to life in this novel continues to be 
correct. 

But in the novels that follow, this moral relation to life 
grows confused. The appraisement of the phenomena of 
life begins to waver, to grow obscure, and in the last novels 
it is quite perverted. 

In Mont-Oriol Maupassant seems to unite the motives of 
his two previous novels and repeats himself to order. De- 
spite the fine descriptions of the fashionable watering-place 
and of the medical activity in it, which is executed with del- 
icate taste, we have here the same bull-like Paul, just as empty 
and despicable as the husband in line Vie; and the same de- 
ceived, frank, meek, weak, lonely always lonely good 
woman, and the same impassive triumph of pettiness and 
triviality as in Bel- Ami. 

The thought is the same, but the author's moral relation 
to what he describes is already much lower, lower especially 
than in Une Vie. The author's inner appraisement of right 
and wrong begins to get confused. Notwithstanding his 
abstract wish to be impartially objective, the scoundrel 
Paul evidently has all his sympathy, and therefore the love 
story of this Paul and his attempts at and success in se- 
duction produce a discordant impression. The reader does 
not know what the author intends: is it to show the whole 
emptiness and vileness of Paul (who turns indifferently 
away from, and insults, a woman merely because her waist has 
been spoilt by her pregnancy with his child) ; or, on the con- 




GUY DE MAUPASSANT 55 

trary, is it to show how pleasant and easy it is to live as this 
Paul lives? 

In the next novels, Pierre et Jean, Fort comme la wort, and 
Notre coeur, the author's moral attitude towards his char- 
acters becomes still more confused, and in the last-named is 
quite lost. All these novels bear the stamp of indifference, 
haste, unreality, and, above all, again that same absence of 
a correct moral relation to life which was present in his first 
writings. This began from the time when Maupassant's rep- 
utation as a fashionable author had become established and 
he became liable to the temptation, so terrible in our day, to 
which every celebrated writer is subject, especially one so at- 
tractive as Maupassant. In the first place the success of his 
first novels, the praise of the press, and the flattery of society, 
especially of women ; in the second the ever increasing amount 
of remuneration (never however keeping up with his con- 
tinually increasing wants); in the third the pertinacity of 
editors outbidding one another, flattering, begging, and no 
longer judging the merits of the works the author offers but 
enthusiastically accepting everything signed by a name now 
established with the public. All these temptations are so 
great that they evidently turn his head, and he succumbs 
to them; and though he continues to elaborate the form of 
his work as well as or sometimes even better than before, 
and even though he is fond of what he describes, yet he no 
longer loves it because it is good or moral and lovable to 
all, or hates it because it is evil and hateful to all, but only 
because one thing pleases and another thing happens to dis- 
please him. 

On all Maupassant's novels, beginning with Bel-Ami, there 
lies this stamp of haste and still more of artificiality. From 
that time Maupassant no longer did what he had done in 
his first two novels. He did not take as his basis certain 



56 TOLSTOY ON ART 

moral demands and on that ground describe the actions of 
his characters, but wrote as all hack novelists do, that is, 
he devised the most interesting and pathetic, or most up-to- 
date persons and situations, and made a novel out of them, 
adorning it with whatever observations he had opportunity 
to make which fitted into the framework of the story, quite 
indifferent as to how the incidents described were related to 
the demands of morality. Such are Pierre et Jean, Fort 
comme la mort, and Notre coeur. 

Accustomed as we are to read in French novels of how 
families live in threes, always with a lover known to every- 
one except the husband, it still remains quite unintelligible 
to us how it happens that all husbands are always fools, 
cocus et ridicules, 1 but all lovers (who themselves in the 
end marry and become husbands) are not only not cocus et 
ridicules, but are heroic! And still less comprehensible is 
it how all women can be depraved, and yet all mothers saintly. 

And on these unnatural and unlikely, and above all pro- 
foundly immoral, propositions Pierre et Jean and Fort comme 
la mort are built, and therefore the sufferings of the char- 
acters so situated affect us but little. The mother of Pierre 
and Jean, who can live her whole life deceiving her husband, 
evokes little sympathy when she is obliged to confess her sin 
to her son, and still less when she justifies herself by asserting 
that she could not but avail herself of the chance of happiness 
which presented itself. Still less can we sympathize with the 
gentleman who, in Fort comme la mort, having all his life 
deceived his friend and debauched his friend's wife, now 
only regrets that having grown old he cannot seduce his 
mistress's daughter. The last novel, Notre coeur, has even 
no kernel at all beyond the description of various kinds of 
sex-love. The satiated emotions of an idle debauchee are 

1 Deceived and ridiculous. 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 57 

described, who does not know what he wants, and who first 
lives with a woman yet more depraved than himself a men- 
tally depraved woman, who lacks even the excuse of sen- 
suality then leaves her and lives with a servant girl, and 
then again rejoins the former, and, it seems, lives with them 
both. If in Pierre et Jean and Fort comme la mort there 
are still some touching scenes, this last novel excites only 
disgust. 

The question in Maupassant's first novel, line Vie, consists 
in this: here is a human being, good, wise, pleasing, ready 
for all that is good, and this creature is for some reason 
offered up as a sacrifice first to a coarse, small-minded, stupid 
animal of a husband, without having given anything to the 
world. Why is this? The author puts that question and as 
it were gives no answer, but his whole novel, all his feeling 
of pity for her and abhorrence of what has ruined her, serves 
as answer. If there is a man who has understood her suf- 
fering and expressed it, then it is redeemed, as Job put it to 
his friends when they said that no one would know of his 
sufferings. When suffering is recognized and understood, 
it is redeemed; and here the author has recognized and un- 
derstood and shown men this suffering, and the suffering is 
redeemed, for once it is understood by men it will sooner or 
later be done away with. 

In the next novel, Bel-Ami, the question no longer is, Why 
do good persons suffer? but Why do wealth and fame go to 
the unworthy? What are wealth and fame? How are they 
obtained? And as before, these questions carry with them 
their own answers, which consist in the repudiation of all 
that the crowd of men so highly prize. The subject of this 
second novel is still serious, but the moral relation of the 
author to the subject he describes already weakens consider- 
ably, and whereas in the first novel blots and sensuality which 



58 TOLSTOY ON ART 

spoil it only appear here and there, in Bel-Ami these blots 
have increased and many chapters are filled with dirt alone, 
which seems to please the author. 

In the next book, Mont-Oriol, the questions: Why, and 
to what end, does the amiable woman suffer and the savage 
male secure success and happiness? are no longer put; but it 
seems tacitly admitted that it should be so, and hardly any 
moral demands are felt. But without the least necessity, 
uncalled for by any artistic consideration, dirty sensual de- 
scriptions are presented. As an example of this violation of 
artistic taste, resulting from the author's incorrect relation 
to his subject, the detailed description in this novel of the 
heroine in her bath is specially striking. This description is 
quite unnecessary, and is in no way connected either with the 
external or the inner purpose of the novel: "Bubbles appear 
on her pink skin." 

"Well, what of that?" asks the reader. 

"Nothing more," replies the author. "I describe it because 
I like such descriptions." 

In the next novels, Pierre et Jean and Fort comme la 
mort, no moral demand at all is perceptible. Both novels 
are built on debauchery, deceit, and falsehood, which bring 
the actors to tragic situations. 

In the last novel, Notre cceur, the position of the actors 
is most monstrous, wild, and immoral ; they no longer struggle 
with anything, but only seek satisfaction for their vanity, sen- 
suality, and sexual desires; and the author appears quite to 
sympathize with their aims. The only deduction one can 
draw from this last novel is that the greatest pleasure in 
life consists in sexual intercourse, and that therefore one 
must secure that happiness in the pleasantest way. 

Yet more striking is this immoral relation to life in the 
half-novel, Yvette. The subject, which is horrible in its 
immorality, is as follows: A charming girl, innocent in soul 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 59 

and depraved only in the manners she has learned in her 
mother's dissolute circle, leads a libertine into error. He 
falls in love with her, but imagining that this girl knowingly 
chatters the obscene nonsense she has picked up in her 
mother's society and repeats parrot-like without understand- 
ing imagining that she is already depraved he coarsely 
offers her an immoral union. This proposal horrifies and 
offends her (for she loves him) ; it opens her eyes to her own 
position and to that of her mother, and she suffers profoundly. 
This deeply touching scene is admirably described: the col- 
lision between a beautiful innocent soul and the depravity 
of the world. And with that it might end; but the author, 
without either external or inner necessity, continues to write 
and makes this man penetrate by night to the girl and 
seduce her. Evidently in the first part of the story the au- 
thor was on the girl's side, but in the later part he has sud- 
denly gone over to the debauchee, and the one impression 
destroys the other the whole novel crumbles and falls to 
pieces like ill-kneaded bread. 

In all his novels after Bel-Ami (I am not now speaking 
of the short stories, which constitute his chief merit and 
glory of them later) Maupassant evidently submitted to the 
theory which ruled not only in his circle in Paris, but which 
now rules everywhere among artists: that for a work of art 
it is not only unnecessary to have any clear conception of 
what is right and wrong, but that, on the contrary, an artist 
should completely ignore all moral questions, there being 
even a certain artistic merit in so doing. According to this 
theory the artist may or should depict what is true to life, 
what really is, what is beautiful and therefore pleases him, 
or even what may be useful as material for "science"; but 
that to care about what is moral or immoral, right or wrong, 
is not an artist's business. 

I remember a celebrated painter showing me one of his 



60 TOLSTOY ON ART 

pictures representing a religious procession. It was all ex- 
cellently painted, but no relation of the artist to his subject 
was perceptible. 

"And do you regard these ceremonies as good and consider 
that they should be performed, or not?" I asked him. 

With some condescension to my naivete, he told me that 
he did not know about that and did not want to know it; his 
business was to represent life. 

"But at any rate you sympathize with this?" 

"I cannot say so." 

"Well then do you dislike these ceremonies?" 

"Neither the one thing nor the other," replied, with a smile 
of compassion at my silliness, this modern, highly cultured 
artist who depicted life without understanding its purpose and 
neither loving nor hating its phenomena. 

And so unfortunately thought Maupassant. 

In his preface to Pierre et Jean he says that people say 
to a writer, "Consolez-moi, amusez-moi, attristez-moi, 
attendrissez-moi, faites-moi rever, faites-moi rire, faites-moi 
fremir, faites-moi pleurer, faites-moi penser. Seuls quelques 
esprits d' elites demandent a V artiste: faites-moi quelque 
chose de beau dans la forme qui vous conviendra le mieux 
d'apres votre temperament" 1 

Responding to this demand of the elite Maupassant wrote 
his novels, naively imagining that what was considered beau- 
tiful in his circle was that beauty which art should serve. 

And in the circle in which Maupassant moved, the beauty 
which should be served by art was, and is, chiefly woman 
young, pretty, and for the most part naked and sexual con- 

1 "Console me, amuse me, sadden me, touch my heart, make me dream, make 
me laugh, make me tremble, make me weep, make me think. Only a few chosen 
spirits bid the artist compose something beautiful, in the form that best suits his 
temperament." 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 61 

nection with her. It was so considered not only by all Mau- 
passant's comrades in art painters, sculptors, novelists, and 
poets but also by philosophers, the teachers of the rising 
generation. Thus the famous Renan, in his work, Marc 
Aurele, p. 555, when blaming Christianity for not under- 
standing feminine beauty, plainly says: 

"La defaut du christianisme apparait bien ici. II est trop 
uniquement moral; la beaute, chez lui, est tout-a-fait sac- 
rifiee. Or, aux yeux d'une philosophie complete, la beaute, 
loin d'etre un avantage superficiel, un danger, un inconveni- 
ent, est un don de Dieu, comme la vertu. Elle vaut la vertu ; 
la femme belle exprime aussi bien une face du but divin, 
une des fins de Dieu, que Vhomme de genie ou la femme ver- 
tueuse. Elle le sent et de la sa fierte. Elle sent instinctive- 
ment le tresor infini qu'elle porte en son corps; elle sait bien 
que, sans esprit, sans talent, sans grande vertu, elle compte 
entre les premieres manifestations de Dieu. Et pourquoi 
lui interdire de mettre en valeur le don qui lui a ete fait, de 
sertir le diamant qui lui est echu? La femme, en se par ant, 
accomplit un devoir; elle pratique un art, art exquis, en un 
sens le plus charmant des arts. Ne nous laissons pas egarer 
par le sourire que certain mots provoquent chez les gens 
frivoles. On decerne le palme du genie a V artiste grec 
qui a su resoudre le plus delicat des problemes, orner le corps 
humain, c'est a dire orner la perfection meme, et Von ne veut 
voir qu'une affaire de chiffons dans Vessai de collaborer a 
la plus belle osuvre de Dieu, a la beaute de la femme! La 
toilette de la femme, avec tous ses raffinements est du grand 
art a sa maniere. Les siecles et les pays qui savent y reussir 
sont les grands siecles, les grands pays, et le christianisme 
montra, par V exclusion dont il frappa ce genre de recherches, 
que i ideal social qu'il concevait ne deviendrait le cadre d'une 
societe complete que bien plus tard, quand la revoke des 



62 TOLSTOY ON ART 

gens du monde aurait brise le joug etroit impose primitive- 
ment a la secte par un pietisme exalte." l 

(So that in the opinion of this leader of the young genera- 
tion only now have Paris milliners and coiffeurs corrected the 
mistake committed by Christianity, and re-established beauty 
in the true and lofty position due to it. ) 

In order that there should be no doubt as to how one is to 
understand beauty, the same celebrated writer, historian, and 
savant wrote the drama, L'Abbesse de Jouarre, in which he 
showed that to have sexual intercourse with a woman is a 
service of this beauty, that is to say, is an elevated and good 
action. In that drama, which is striking by its lack of talent 
and especially by the coarseness of the conversations between 
d'Arcy and the abbesse, in which the first words make it evi- 
dent what sort of love that gentleman is discussing w T ith the 
supposedly innocent and highly moral maiden, who is not 
in the least offended thereby in that drama it is shown that 

1 The defect of Christianity is clearly seen in this. It is too exclusively moral; 
it quite sacrifices beauty. But in the eyes of a complete philosophy beauty, far 
from being a superficial advantage, a danger, an inconvenience, is a gift of God, 
like virtue. It is worth as much as virtue; the beautiful woman expresses an as- 
pect of the divine purpose, one of God's aims, as well as a man of genius does, 
or a virtuous woman. She feels this, and hence her pride. She is instinctively 
conscious of the infinite treasure she possesses in her body; she is well aware 
that without intellect, without talent, without great virtue, she counts among 
the chief manifestations of God. And why forbid her to make the most of the 
gift bestowed upon her, or to give the diamond allotted to her its due setting? 
By adorning herself woman accomplishes a duty; she practises an art, an ex- 
quisite art, in a sense the most charming of arts. Do not let us be misled by 
the smile which certain words provoke in the frivolous. We award the palm of 
genius to the Greek artist who succeeded in solving the most delicate of prob- 
lems, that of adorning the human body, that is to say, adorning perfection itself, 
and yet some people wish to see nothing more than an affair of chiffons in the 
attempt to collaborate with the finest work of God woman's beauty! Woman's 
toilette with all its refinements is a great art in its own way. The epochs and 
countries which can succeed in this arc the great epochs and great countries, and 
Christianity, by the embargo it laid on this kind of research, showed that the 
social ideal it had conceived would only become the framework of a complete 
society at a much later period, when the revolt of men of the world had broken 
the narrow yoke originally imposed on the sect by a fanatical pietism. 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 63 

the most highly moral people, at the approach of death to 
which they are condemned, a few hours before it arrives, can 
do nothing more beautiful than yield to their animal passions. 

So that in the circle in which Maupassant grew up and was 
educated, the representation of feminine beauty and sex-love 
was and is regarded quite seriously, as a matter long ago 
decided and recognized by the wisest and most learned men, 
as the true object of the highest art Le grand art. 

And it is this theory, dreadful in its folly, to which Maupas- 
sant submitted when he became a fashionable writer; and, as 
was to be expected, this false ideal led him in his novels 
into a series of mistakes, and to ever weaker and weaker 
production. 

In this the fundamental difference between the demands of 
the novel and of the short story is seen. A novel has for its 
aim, even for external aim, the description of a whole human 
life or of many human lives, and therefore its writer should 
have a clear and firm conception of what is good and bad in 
life, and this Maupassant lacked; indeed according to the 
theory he held, that is just what should be avoided. Had he 
been a novelist like some talentless writers of sensual novels, 
he would, being without talent, have quietly described what 
was evil as good, and his novels would have had unity, and 
would have been interesting to people who shared his view. 
But Maupassant had talent, that is to say, he saw things in 
their essentials and therefore involuntarily discerned the 
truth. He involuntarily saw the evil in what he wished to 
consider good. That is why, in all his novels except the 
first, his sympathies continually waver, now presenting the 
evil as good, and now admitting that the evil is evil and the 
good good, but continually shifting from the one standpoint 
to the other. And this destroys the very basis of any artistic 
impression the framework on which it is built. People of 
little artistic sensibility often think that a work of art possesses 



64 TOLSTOY ON ART 

unity when the same people act in it throughout, or when 
it is all constructed on one plot, or describes the life of one 
man. That is a mistake. It only appears so to a superficial 
observer. The cement which binds any artistic production 
into one whole and therefore produces the illusion of being a 
reflection of life, is not the unity of persons or situations, but 
the unity of the author's independent moral relation to his 
subject. In reality, when we read or look at the artistic pro- 
duction of a new author the fundamental question that arises 
in our soul is always of this kind: "Well, what sort of a 
man are you? Wherein are you different from all the people 
I know, and what can you tell me that is new, about how 
we must look at this life of ours?" Whatever the artist de- 
picts saints, robbers, kings, or lackeys we seek and see only 
the artist's own soul. If he is an established writer with 
whom we are already familiar, the question no longer is, 
"What sort of a man are you?" but, "Well, what more can 
you tell me that is new?" or, "From what new side will you 
now illumine life for me?" And therefore a writer who has 
not a clear definite and just view of the universe, and es- 
pecially a man who considers that this isn't even wanted, 
cannot produce a work of art. He may write much and 
admirably, but a work of art will not result. 

So it was with Maupassant in his novels. In his first two 
novels, and especially in the first, Une Vie, there was a clear, 
definite, and new relation to life, and it was an artistic pro- 
duction; but as soon as, submitting to the fashionable theory, 
he decided that this relation of the author to life was quite un- 
necessary and began to write merely in order faire quelque 
chose de beau (to produce something beautiful), his novels 
ceased to be works of art. In Une Vie and Bel- Ami the author 
knows whom he should love and whom he should hate, and 
the reader agrees with him and believes in him believes in 




GUY DE MAUPASSANT 65 

the people and events he describes. But in Notre cosur and 
Yvette the author does not know whom he should love and 
whom he should hate, and the reader does not know either. 
And not knowing this, the reader does not believe in the events 
described and is not interested in them. And therefore, ex- 
cept the two first or, strictly speaking, excepting only the first 
novel, all Maupassant's, as novels, are weak; and if he 
had left us only his novels he would have been merely a 
striking instance of the way in which brilliant talents may 
perish as a result of the false environment in which he de- 
veloped and of these false theories of art that have been 
devised by people who neither love nor understand it. But 
fortunately Maupassant wrote short stories in which he did 
not subject himself to the false theory he had accepted, and 
wrote not quelque chose de beau, but what touched or re- 
volted his moral feeling. And in these short stories not 
in all, but in the best of them we see how that moral feel- 
ing grew in the author. 

And it is in this that the wonderful quality of every true 
artist lies, if only he does not do violence to himself under 
the influence of a false theory. His talent teaches its pos- 
sessor and leads him forward along the path of moral de- 
velopment, compelling him to love what deserves love and to 
hate what deserves hate. An artist is an artist because he sees 
things not as he wishes to see them but as they really are. 
The possessor of a talent, the man, may make mistakes, but 
his talent if only it is allowed free play, as Maupassant 
gave it free play in his short stories, discloses, undrapes the 
object, and compels love of it if it deserves love and hatred 
of it if it deserves hatred. With every true artist, when 
under the influence of his circle he begins to represent what 
should not be represented, there happens what happened to 
Balaam, who, wishing to bless, cursed what should be cursed, 



66 TOLSTOY ON ART 

and wishing to curse, blessed what should be blessed: in- 
voluntarily he does, not what he wishes to do but what he 
should do. And this happened to Maupassant. 

There has hardly been another writer who so sincerely 
thought that all the good, all the meaning of life, lies in 
woman in love, and who with such strength of passion de- 
scribed woman and her love from all sides; and there has 
hardly ever been a writer who reached such clearness and ex- 
actitude in showing all the awful phases of that very thing 
which had seemed to him the highest and the greatest of life's 
blessings. The more he penetrated into the question the more 
it revealed itself, and the more did the coverings fall from it 
and only its horrible results and yet more horrible essence 
remain. 

Read of the idiot son, of the night with a daughter 
(L'ermite), of the sailor with his sister (Le port), Le champ 
d'oliviers, La petite Roque, of the English girl (Miss 
Harriet), Monsieur Parent, Var moire (the girl who fell 
asleep in the cupboard), the wedding in Sur Veau, and last 
expression of all, Un cas de divorce. Just what was said 
by Marcus Aurelius when devising means to destroy the at- 
tractiveness of this sin in his imagination, is what Maupassant 
does in most vivid artistic forms, turning one's soul inside 
out. He wished to extol sex-love, but the better he came to 
know it the more he cursed it. He cursed sex-love for the 
misfortunes and sufferings it bears within it, and for the 
disillusionments and, above all, for the falsification of real 
love, for the fraud which is in it from which man suffers the 
more acutely the more trustingly he has yielded to the de- 
ception. 

The powerful moral growth of the author in the course 
of his literary activity is recorded in indelible traits in these 
charming short stories and in his best book, Sur Veau. 

And not alone in this involuntary and therefore all the 



GUY DE MAUPASSANT 67 

more powerful dethronement of sex-love is the moral growth 
of the author seen, but also in the more and more exalted 
moral demands he makes upon life. 

Not alone in sex-love does he see the innate contradiction 
between the demands of animal and rational man; he sees it 
in the whole organization of the world. 

He sees that the world as it is, the material world, is not 
only not the best of worlds, but might on the contrary be quite 
different this thought is strikingly expressed in Horla and 
that it does not satisfy the demands of reason and life. He 
sees that there is some other world, or at least the demand for 
such another world, in the soul of man. 

He is tormented not only by the irrationality of the material 
world and its ugliness, but by its unlovingness, its discord. 
I do not know a more heart-rending cry of horror from one 
who has lost his way and is conscious of his loneliness, than 
the expression of this idea in that most charming story, 
Solitude. 

The thing that most tormented Maupassant and to which 
he returns many times, is the painful state of isolation, spirit- 
ual isolation, of man; the barrier standing between him and 
his fellows; a barrier, he says, the more painfully felt the 
nearer one's bodily connexion. 

What is it torments him, and what would he have? What 
can destroy this barrier? What end this isolation? Love 
not feminine love, which has become disgusting to him, but 
pure, spiritual, divine love. And that is what Maupassant 
seeks. Towards it, towards this saviour of life long since 
plainly disclosed to all men, he painfully strains from those 
fetters in which he feels himself bound. 

He does not yet know how to name what he seeks. He does 
not wish to name it with his lips alone, lest he should profane 
his holy-of -holies. But his unexpressed striving, shown in 
his dread of loneliness, is so sincere that it infects and at- 



68 TOLSTOY ON ART 

tracts one more strongly than many and many sermons about 
love, uttered only by the lips. 



The tragedy of Maupassant's life is that being in a most 
monstrous and immoral circle, he by the strength of his tal- 
ent, by that extraordinary light which was in him, was es- 
caping from the outlook on life held by that circle, and was 
already near to deliverance, was already breathing the air 
of freedom but, having exhausted his last strength in the 
struggle and not being able to make a last effort perished 
without having attained freedom. 

The tragedy of that ruin lies in what still afflicts the ma- 
jority of the so-called cultured men of our time. 

Men in general never have lived without an expression of 
the meaning of their life. Always and everywhere, highly- 
gifted men going in advance of others have appeared the 
prophets, as they are called who have explained to men the 
meaning and purport of their life; and always the ordinary, 
average men, who had not the strength to explain that mean- 
ing for themselves, have followed the explanation of life their 
prophets have disclosed to them. 

That meaning was explained eighteen hundred years ago 
by Christianity, simply, clearly, indubitably, and joyfully, 
as is proved by the lives of all who acknowledge it and 
follow the guidance of life which results from that conception. 

But then people appeared who misinterpreted that mean- 
ing so that it became meaningless, and men are placed in the 
dilemma either of acknowledging Christianity as interpreted 
by Orthodoxy, Lourdes, the Pope, the dogma of the Immacu- 
late Conception and so forth, or of going on with life accord- 
ing to the teachings of Renan and his kind, that is, living 
without any direction or understanding of life, following 
only their lusts as long as they are strong, and their habits 
when their lusts become feeble. 




GUY DE MAUPASSANT 69 

And people, ordinary people, choose the one or the other, 
sometimes both, first dissoluteness and then Orthodoxy; and 
thus whole generations live, shielding themselves with various 
theories, invented not to disclose the truth but to hide it. And 
ordinary, and more especially dull, people are content. 

But there are others not many, they are rare such as 
Maupassant, who with their own eyes see things as they are, 
see their significance, see the contradictions in life concealed 
from others, and vividly realize to what these contradictions 
must inevitably lead them and seek to solve them in advance. 
They seek these solutions everywhere except where they are 
to be found, namely in Christianity, because Christianity ap- 
pears to them outlived and discarded, repelling them by its 
absurdity. And vainly trying to find these solutions for 
themselves, they come to the conviction that there are no solu- 
tions, and that it is inherent in life that one should al- 
ways bear in oneself these unsolved contradictions. And hav- 
ing come to such a conclusion, if these people are feeble un- 
energetic natures, they put up with such meaningless life and 
are even proud of their position, accounting their ignorance 
a quality and a sign of culture. But if they are energetic, 
truthful, and gifted natures, such as Maupassant was, they 
do not endure this, but one way or other try to get out of this 
senseless life. 

It is as if men thirsting in a desert sought water every- 
where except near those people who, standing round a spring 
pollute it and offer stinking mire instead of the water that un- 
ceasingly flows beneath the mire. Maupassant was in this 
position; he could not believe evidently it never even en- 
tered his head that the truth he sought had long ago been 
found and was so near him; but neither could he believe 
that man can live in such contradiction as that in which he 
felt himself to be living. 

Life, according to the theories in which he had been brought 



70 TOLSTOY ON ART 

up, which surrounded him and were corroborated by all the 
lusts of his young, and mentally and physically strong, be- 
ing life consists in pleasure, of which the chief is to be 
found in woman with her love, and in the reproduction of this 
pleasure in its reflection, in the presentation of this love, and 
in exciting it in others. All this might be well; but on ex- 
amining these pleasures quite other things emerge, alien and 
hostile to this love and this beauty: woman for some reason 
is disfigured, becomes unpleasantly pregnant and repulsive, 
gives birth to children, unwanted children; then come de- 
ceptions, cruelties, moral suffering, then mere old age, and 
ultimately death. 

Then is this beauty indeed beauty? And why is all this 
so? It would be all very well if one could arrest life, but 
life goes on. And what does that mean? "Life goes on" 
means that the hair falls out, turns grey, the teeth decay, and 
there are wrinkles and offensive breath. Even before all 
is finished, everything becomes dreadful, repulsive: the rouge, 
the powder, the sweat, the smell, and the disgustingness, are 
evident. Where then is that which I serve? Where is 
beauty? But she is all! And if she is not, there is nothing 
left. There is no life! 

But not merely is there no life in what seemed to be life: 
one begins to forsake it oneself, one becomes weaker, more 
stupid, one decays; others before one's eyes seize those de- 
lights in which all the good of life lay. Nor is that all. 
Some other possibility of life begins to glimmer on one's 
mind; something else, some other kind of union with men, 
with the whole world, one which does not admit of all these 
deceptions, something which cannot by any means be in- 
fringed; which is true and forever beautiful. But this can- 
not be. It is only the tantalizing vision of an oasis when 
we know that it does not exist and that there is nothing but 
sand everywhere. 






GUY DE MAUPASSANT 71 



Maupassant reached that tragic moment in life when the 
struggle begins between the falseness of the life about him 
and the truth of life of which he began to be conscious. 
Pangs of spiritual birth had already begun in him. 

And it is these pangs of this birth that are expressed in 
his best work, especially in the short stories printed in this 
edition. 

Had he not been fated to die while still suffering, but to 
fulfil all his possibilities, he would have left us great and 
illuminating works; but even what he gave us in the midst 
of his pain is much. Let us then be thankful to this strong 
and truthful man for what he has given us. 



PART IX 

FROM A LETTER TO PETER VERIGIN, THE 
DOUKHOBOR LEADER 

The thoughts expressed in your letter about the advan- 
tage of living intercourse over intercourse by means of dead 
books pleased me greatly and I share them. I write book-, 
and therefore know all the evil they produce. I know how 
people who do not wish to receive the truth can avoid reading 
books, or understanding what goes against the grain and ex- 
poses them, and I know how they can misinterpret and per- 
vert as they have done with the Gospels. All this I know, 
but yet I consider books to be, in our time, inevitable. I say 
"in our time" in contradistinction to the Gospel times, when 
there were no printing-presses and books were not used and 
the means of communication were vocal. Then it was pos- 
sible to do without books, for the enemies of truth had none. 
But now one cannot leave this powerful engine entirely for 
the enemies of truth to use for deception, but must also see 
that it is used on the side of truth. 

To refuse to make use of a book or a letter to convey one's 
thoughts, or to get at the thoughts of others, would be like 
refusing to use one's strength of voice to convey to many 
people at once what one has to say, or the use of one's ears to 
understand what some one is saying in a loud voice. It 
would be like refusing to acknowledge the possibility of con- 
veying thought except tete-a-tete or in a whisper. Writing 
and printing have but multiplied a thousand, a hundred thou- 
sand, times the number of people by whom the thoughts ex- 
pressed may be heard; but the relation between him who ex- 

72 



LETTER TO PETER VERIGIN 73 

presses and him who receives the thoughts remains as before. 
As in conversation the hearer may grasp and understand what 
is said or may let it go in at one ear and out at the other, so 
it is with printed matter. As the reader of a book may twist 
it this way or that, so also may he who hears spoken words. 
As in books (and we constantly see this) much may be written 
that is superfluous and empty, so it is with speech. A differ- 
ence exists, but it is a difference that is sometimes to the ad- 
vantage of vocal sometimes of printed communication. The 
advantage of vocal communication is that the hearer feels the 
spirit of the speaker, but the disadvantage is that very often 
empty talkers (for instance lawyers), having a gift of 
words, sway men not by their reasonableness but by their 
mastery of oratorical art, which is not so with books. An- 
other advantage of verbal communication is that a hearer who 
has not understood a matter can ask questions, but there is 
the accompanying disadvantage that those who have failed to 
understand (often purposely failed) can put questions which 
are not to the point and thus divert the stream of thought 
which is not so with books. 

The disadvantages of books are: first, that paper can en- 
dure all things, and people can have any nonsense printed 
causing enormous labour to be wasted in paper-making and 
type-setting, which is not so with vocal communication, for 
people can refuse to listen to nonsense. Secondly, that books 
are multiplying enormously, so that the good ones get lost in 
the sea of empty and harmful ones. But then again the ad- 
vantages of the press are very great, and consist chiefly in 
the fact that the circle of hearers is extended a hundredfold 
or a thousandfold as compared to the hearers of the spoken 
word. And this increase in the circle of readers is important, 
not because there are many readers, but because, among the 
millions of people of different nations and stations to whom a 
book becomes accessible, those who share similar thoughts 



74 TOLSTOY ON ART 

discover one another, and while living thousands of miles 
apart, not knowing one another, are yet united and live by 
one spirit, having the spiritual joy and encouragement of 
feeling that they are not alone. Such communication I now 
have with you and with many, many, men of other nations 
men who have never seen me, but who yet are nearer to me 
than sons or brothers of my own blood. 

The chief consideration in favour of books is, that since 
men reached a certain stage of development in the external 
conditions of life, books and printing in general have become 
a means of communication among men and therefore must 
not be neglected. So many harmful books have been writ- 
ten and circulated that the evil can only be met by other books. 
One wedge drives out another! Christ said: "What I 
tell you in the ear proclaim upon the housetops." Printing 
is just that proclamation from the housetops. The printed 
word is a tongue a tongue that reaches very far ; and for this 
reason all that is said of the tongue relates also to the printed 
word: "Therewith bless we the Lord; and therewith curse 
we men, made after the likeness of God." Therefore one can- 
not be too careful what one says and listens to, nor what one 
prints and reads. . . . 

The above extract is from a letter written to Verigin while he was in exile at 
Obdorsk, near the mouth of the Obi in Northern Siberia. The whole letter is 
given in Essays and Letters by Tolstoy, in the "World's Classics" series. Oxford 
University Press. 

1895. 



PART X 

The essay On Art that follows was the last attempt Tolstoy made, 
after many years' reflection, to express his views on art, before he wrote 
What is Art? This essay (On Art) did not satisfy him, but in several 
respects it drew very near to what he was finally to say. What he had 
not arrived at when he wrote it was ( 1 ) the clear-cut working definition 
of art which he gives in his later work, and (2) the clear perception of 
the importance and necessity of appraising separately the form of a work 
of art, which makes it infectious, and the subject-matter of feeling which 
connects it with the whole of life, and which benefits or harms mankind. 

One feels, in On Art, that Tolstoy is still treading warily a path he 
has not fully explored; it was only later in What is Art? that he let 
himself go, careless of the eggs he broke and feelings he disturbed, and 
asserting his convictions with emphasis and exuberance. 

ON ART: 

What is and What is not Art; And When is Art Important 
and When is it Trivial? 

I 

In our life there are many insignificant or even harmful 
activities which enjoy a respect they do not deserve, or are 
tolerated merely because they are considered to be of im- 
portance. The copying of flowers, horses and landscapes, 
such clumsy learning of musical pieces as is carried on in 
most of our so-called educated families, and the writing 
of feeble stories and bad verses, hundreds of which appear 
in the newspapers and magazines, are obviously not artistic 
activities; and the painting of indecent, pornograpjnc pic- 
tures stimulating sensuality, or the composition of songs and 
stories of that nature, even if they have artistic qualities, 
is not a good activity worthy of respect. 

75 



76 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And therefore, taking all the productions which are con- 
sidered among us to be artistic, I think it would be useful, 
first, to separate what really is art from what has no right to 
that name; and secondly, taking what really is art, to dis- 
tinguish what is important and good from what is insignificant 
and bad. 

The question of how and where to draw the line separating 
Art from Not-art, and the good and important in art from 
the insignificant and evil, is one of enormous importance to 
life. 

A great many of the wrong-doings and mistakes in our life 
result from our calling things art which are not art. We 
accord an unmerited respect to things which not only do not 
deserve it, but deserve condemnation and contempt. Apart 
from the enormous amount of human labour spent on the 
preparation of articles needed for the production of art: 
studios, paints, canvas, marble, musical instruments, and the 
theatres with their scenery and appliances, even the lives 
of human beings are actually perverted by the one-sided 
labours demanded in the preparation of those who train for the 
arts. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of children are 
forced to one-sided toil, practising the so-called arts of danc- 
ing and music. Not to speak of the children of the educated 
classes who pay their tribute to art in the form of tormenting 
lessons, children devoted to the ballet and musical profes- 
sions are simply distorted in the name of art to which they 
are dedicated. If it is possible to compel children of seven 
or eight to play an instrument, and for ten or fifteen years 
to continue to do so for seven or eight hours a day; if it is 
possible to place girls in the schools for the ballet, 1 and then 
to make them cut capers during the first months of their 
pregnancy, and if all this is done in the name of art, then it 

1 The schools for training ballet-dancers, as well as the theatres where the 
chief ballets were performed, were State institutions in Russia. 



ON ART 77 

is certainly necessary to define, first of all, what really is art 
lest under the guise of art a counterfeit should be produced; 
and then also to prove that art is a matter of importance for 
mankind. 

Where then is the line dividing art, an important and 
necessary matter valuable to humanity, from useless occupa- 
tions, commercial productions, and even from immorality? 
In what does the essence and importance of true art lie? 

II 

One theory which its opponents call ''tendentious" says 
that the essence of true art lies in the importance of the 
subject treated of: that for art to be art, it is necessary that 
its content should be something important, necessary to man, 
good, moral, and instructive. 

According to that theory the artist that is to say the man 
who possesses a certain skill by taking the most important 
theme which interests society at the time, can, by clothing it 
in what looks like artistic form, produce a work of true art. 
According to that theory religious, moral, social, and political 
truths clothed in what seems like artistic form are artistic 
productions. 

Another theory, which calls itself "esthetic," or "art for 
art's sake," says that the essence of true art lies in the beauty 
of its form ; that for art to be true, it is necessary that what it 
presents should be beautiful. 

According to that theory it is necessary for the production 
of art, that an artist should possess technique, and should de- 
pict an object which produces in the highest degree a pleasant 
impression ; and therefore a beautiful landscape, flowers, fruit, 
a nude figure, and ballets, will be works of art. 

A third theory which calls itself "realistic" says that 
the essence of art consists in the truthful, exact presentation 



78 TOLSTOY ON ART 

of reality: that, for art to be true it is necessary that it should 
depict life as it really is. 

According to that theory, it follows that works of art may 
be anything an artist sees or hears, all that he is able to 
make use of in his function of reproduction, independently 
of the importance of the subject or beauty of the form. 

Such are the theories; and on the basis of each of them 
so-called works of art appear which fit the first, the second, 
or the third. But, apart from the fact that each of these the- 
ories contradicts the others, not one of them satisfies the 
chief demand, namely, to ascertain the boundary which di- 
vides art from commercial, insignificant, or even harmful 
productions. 

In accordance with each of these theories, works can be 
produced unceasingly, as in any handicraft, and they may 
be insignificant or harmful. 

As to the first theory ("tendency"), important subjects 
religious, moral, social, or political can always be found 
ready to hand, and therefore one can continually produce 
works of so-called art. Moreover, such subjects may be pre- 
sented so obscurely and insincerely that works treating of the 
most important of them will prove insignificant and even 
harmful when the lofty content has been degraded by insincere 
expression. 

Similarly according to the second theory ("esthetic"), any 
man having learned the technique of any branch of art can 
incessantly produce something beautiful and pleasant, but 
again this beautiful and pleasant thing may be insignificant 
and harmful. 

Just in the same way according to the third theory ("realis- 
tic"), everyone who wishes to be an artist can incessantly 
produce objects of so-called art, because everybody is always 
interested in something. If the author is interested in what 



ON ART 79 

is insignificant and evil, then his work will be insignificant 
and evil. 

The chief point is that, according to each of these three 
theories, "works of art" can be produced incessantly, as in 
every handicraft, and that they actually are being so pro- 
duced. So that these three dominant and discordant theories 
not merely fail to fix the line that separates art from not-art, 
but, on the contrary, they serve more than anything else to 
stretch the domain of art and to bring within it all that is 
insignificant and harmful. 

Ill 

Where then is the boundary dividing art that is needful and 
important and deserves respect from that which is unneces- 
sary, unimportant, and deserves not respect but contempt 
such as productions which have a plainly depraving effect? 
In what does true artistic activity consist? 

To answer this question clearly we must first discriminate 
between artistic activity and another activity (usually con- 
fused with it), namely, that of handing on impressions and 
perceptions received from preceding generations separating 
such activity as that, from the reception of new impressions 
those namely which will thereafter be handed on from gen- 
eration to generation. 

The handing on of what was known to former generations, 
in the sphere of art, as in the sphere of science, is an activity 
of teaching and learning. But the production of something 
new is creation the real artistic activity. 

The business of handing on knowledge teaching has not 
an independent significance but depends entirely on the im- 
portance people attach to that which has been created what 
it is they consider it necessary to hand on from generation 
to generation. And therefore the definition of what a creation 



80 TOLSTOY ON ART 

is will also define what it is that should be handed on. 
Moreover, the teacher's business is not usually considered to 
be artistic; the importance of artistic activity is properly 
attributed to creation that is to artistic production. 1 

What then is artistic (and scientific) creation? 

Artistic (and also scientific) creation is such mental activ- 
ity as brings dimly-perceived feelings (or thoughts) to such 
a degree of clearness that these feelings (or thoughts) are 
transmitted to other people. 

The process of "creation" one common to all men and 
therefore known to each of us by inner experience occurs 
as follows: a man surmises or dimly feels something that 
is perfectly new to him, which he has never heard of from 
anybody. This something new impresses him, and in ordi- 
nary conversation he points out to others what he perceives, 
and to his surprise finds that what is apparent to him is 
quite unseen by others. They do not see or do not feel what 
he tells them of. This isolation, discord, disunion from 
others, at first disturbs him, and verifying his own percep- 
tion the man tries in different ways to communicate to others 

1 The most usual and widely diffused definition of art is that art is a parti- 
cular activity not aiming at material utility, but affording pleasure to people; 
a pleasure, it is usually added, "ennobling and elevating to the soul." 

This definition corresponds to the conception of art held by the majority of 
people; but it is inexact and not quite clear, and admits of very arbitrary inter- 
pretation. 

It is not clear, for it fuses in one conception art as a human activity producing 
objects of art, and also the feelings of the recipient; and it admits of arbitrary 
interpretation, because it does not define wherein lies the pleasure that "ennobles 
and elevates the soul." So that one person may declare that he receives such 
pleasure from a certain production from which another does not receive it at all. 

And therefore to define art it is necessary to define the peculiarity of that ac- 
tivity, both in its origin in the soul of the producer and in the peculiarity of its 
action on the souls of the recipients. This activity is distinguished from any 
other activity of craftsmanship, or trade, or even science (though it has great 
affinity with this last), in that it is not evoked by any material need, but supplies 
to both producer and recipient a special kind of so-called "artistic satisfaction." 
To explain to oneself this characteristic we must understand what impels people 
to this activity that is, how artistic production originates. 



ON ART 81 

what he has seen, felt, or understood ; but these others still do 
not understand what he communicates to them, or do not 
understand it as he understands or feels it. And the man 
begins to be troubled by a doubt as to whether he imagines 
and dimly feels something that does not really exist, or 
whether others do not see and do not feel something that does 
exist. And to solve this doubt he directs his whole strength 
to the task of making his discovery so clear that there cannot 
be the smallest doubt, either for himself or for other people, 
as to the existence of that which he perceives; and as soon 
as this elucidation is completed and the man himself no longer 
doubts the existence of what he has seen, understood, or felt, 
others at once see, understand, and feel as he does, and it is 
this effort to make clear and indubitable to himself and to 
others what both to others and to him had been dim and 
obscure, that is the source from which flows the production 
of man's spiritual activity in general, or what we call works of 
art which widen man's horizon and oblige him to see what 
had not been perceived before. 1 

It is in this that the activity of an artist consists; and to 
this activity is related the feeling of the recipient. This feel- 
ing has its source in imitativeness, or rather in a capacity to 
be infected, and in a certain hypnotism that is to say in the 
fact that the artist's stress of spirit elucidating to himself the 
subject that had been doubtful to him, communicates itself, 
through the artistic production, to the recipients. A work of 
art is then finished when it has been brought to such clearness 
that it communicates itself to others and evokes in them the 
same feeling that the artist experienced while creating it. 

What was formerly unperceived, unfelt, and uncompre- 

1 The division of the results of man's mental activity into scientific, philosophic, 
theological, hortatory, artistic, and other groups, is made for convenience of ob- 
servation. But such divisions do not exist in reality; just as the divisions of 
the River Volga into the Tver, Nizhigorod, Simbirsk and Saratov sections, are 
not divisions of the river itself, but divisons we make for our own convenience. 



82 TOLSTOY ON ART 

hended, by them is by intensity of feeling brought to such a 
degree of clearness that it becomes acceptable to all, and the 
production is a work of art. 

The satisfaction of the intense feeling of the artist who 
has achieved his aim gives pleasure to him. Participation 
in this same stress of feeling and in its satisfaction, a yield- 
ing to this feeling, the imitation of it and infection by it 
(as by a yawn), the experiencing in brief moments of what 
the artist has lived through while creating his work, is the 
enjoyment those who assimilate a work of art obtain. 

Such in my opinion is the peculiarity distinguishing art 
from any other activity. 

IV 

According to this division, all that imparts to mankind 
something new, achieved by an artist's stress of feeling and 
thought, is a work of art. But that this mental activity should 
really have the importance people attach to it, it is necessary 
that it should contribute what is good to humanity, for it is 
evident that to a new evil, to a new temptation leading people 
into evil, we cannot attribute the value given to art as to some- 
thing that benefits mankind. The importance, the value, of 
art consists in widening man's outlook, in increasing the 
spiritual wealth that is humanity's capital. 

Therefore, though a work of art must always include some- 
thing new, yet the revelation of something new will not 
always be a work of art. That it should be a work of art, 
it is necessary: 

(1) That the new idea, the content of the work, should be of impor- 

tance to mankind. 

(2) That this content should be expressed so clearly that people may 

understand it. 

(3) That what incites the author to work at his production should be 

an inner need and not an external inducement. 



ON ART 83 

And therefore that will not be a work of art in which no 
new thing is disclosed; and that which has for its content 
what is insignificant and therefore unimportant to man will 
not be a work of art, however intelligibly it may be expressed 
and even if the author has worked at it sincerely from an 
inner impulse. Nor will that be a work of art which is so 
expressed as to be unintelligible however sincere may be the 
author's relation to it; nor that which has been produced by 
its author not from an inner impulse but for an external aim, 
however important may be its content and however intel- 
ligible its expression. 

That is a work of art which discloses something new and 
at the same time in some degree satisfies the three conditions : 
content, form, and sincerity. 

And here we come to the problem of how to define that 
lowest degree of content, beauty, and sincerity, which a pro- 
duction must possess to be a work of art. 

To be a work of art it must, in the first place, be a thing 
which has for its content something hitherto unknown but of 
which man has need; secondly, it must show this so intelli- 
gibly that it becomes generally accessible; and thirdly, it 
must result from the author's need to solve an inner doubt. 

A work in which all three conditions are present even to 
a slight degree, will be a work of art; but a production from 
which even one of them is absent will not be a work of art. 

But it will be said that every work contains something 
needed by man, and every work will be to some extent intelli- 
gible, and that an author's relation to every work has some 
degree "of sincerity. Where is the limit of needful content, 
intelligible expression, and sincerity of treatment? A reply 
to this question will be given us by a clear perception of the 
highest limit to which art may attain: the opposite of the 
highest limit will show the lowest limit, dividing all that 
cannot be accounted art from what is art, The highest limit 



84 TOLSTOY ON ART 

of content is such as is always necessary to all men. That 
which is always necessary to all men is what is good or moral. 1 
The lowest limit of content, consequently, will be such as is 
not needed by men, and is a bad and immoral content. The 
highest limit of expression will be such as is always intelli- 
gible to all men. What is thus intelligible is that which has 
nothing in it obscure, superfluous, or indefinite, but only 
what is clear, concise, and definite, what is called beautiful. 
Conversely, the lowest limit of expression will be such as is 
obscure, diffuse, and indefinite, that is to say formless. 
The highest limit of the artist's relation to his subject will 
be such as evokes in the soul of all men an impression of 
reality the reality not so much of what exists, as of what 
goes on in the soul of the artist. This impression of reality 
is produced by truth only; and therefore the highest relation 
of an author to his subject is sincerity. The lowest limit, 
conversely, will be that in which the author's relation to his 
subject is not genuine, but false. All works of art lie between 
these two limits. 

A perfect work of art will be one in which the content is 
important and significant to all men, and therefore it will be 
moral. The expression will be quite clear, intelligible to all, 
and therefore beautiful; the author's relation to his work will 
be altogether sincere, and heartfelt, and therefore true. Im- 
perfect works, but still works of art, will be such productions 
as satisfy all three conditions though it be but in unequal 

1 Half-a-century ago no explanation would have been needed of the words 
"important", "good", and "moral", but in our time nine out of ten educated peo- 
ple, at these words, will ask with a triumphant air : "What is important, good 
or moral?" assuming that these words express something conditional and not 
admitting of definition and therefore I must answer this anticipated objection. 

That which unites people, not by violence but by love: that which serves to 
disclose the joy of the union of men with one another, is "important", "good", 
or "moral". "Evil" and "immoral" is that which divides them, which leads men 
to the suffering that is produced by disunion. "Important" is that which causes 
people to understand and to love what they previously did not understand or 
love. 



ON ART 85 

degree. That only will be no work of art, in which either 
the content is quite insignificant and unnecessary to man, or 
the expression quite unintelligible, or the relation of the author 
to the work is quite insincere. In the degree of perfection 
attained in each of these respects lies the difference in 
quality between all true works of art. Sometimes the first 
predominates, sometimes the second, and sometimes the third. 

All the remaining imperfect productions fall naturally, ac- 
cording to the three fundamental conditions of art, into three 
chief kinds: 1) those which stand out by the importance 
of their content, 2) those which stand out by their beauty of 
form, and 3) those which stand out by their heartfelt sin- 
cerity. These three kinds all yield approximations to perfect 
art and are inevitably produced wherever there is art. 

Thus among young artists heartfelt sincerity chiefly pre- 
vails, coupled with insignificance of content and more or 
less beauty of form. Among older artists, on the contrary, 
the importance of the content often predominates over beauty 
of form and sincerity. Among laborious artists beauty of 
form predominates over content and sincerity. 

All works of art may be appraised by the prevalence in 
them of the first, the second, or the third quality, and they 
may all be subdivided into 1) those that have content and 
are beautiful, but have little sincerity; 2) those that have 
content, but little beauty and little sincerity; 3) those that 
have little content, but are beautiful and sincere, and so on, 
in all possible combinations and permutations. 

All works of art, and in general all the mental activities of 
man, can be appraised on the basis of these three fundamental 
qualities ; and they have been and are so appraised. 

The differences in valuation have resulted, and do result, 
from the extent of the demand presented to art by certain 
people at a certain time in regard to these three conditions. 

So for instance in classical times the demand for signifi- 



86 TOLSTOY ON ART 

cance of content was much higher, and the demand for clear- 
ness and sincerity much lower than they subsequently became, 
especially in our time. The demand for beauty became 
greater in the Middle Ages, but on the other hand the demand 
for significance and sincerity became lower; and in our time 
the demand for sincerity and truthfulness has become much 
greater, but on the other hand the demand for beauty, and 
especially for significance, has been lowered. 



The valuation of works of art is necessarily correct when 
all three conditions are taken into account; and inevitably 
incorrect when works are valued not on the basis of all three 
conditions but only of one or two of them. 

And yet such valuation of works of art on the basis of 
only one of the three conditions is a particularly prevalent 
error in our time, lowering the general level of what is de- 
manded from art to what can be reached by a mere imitation 
of it, and confusing the minds of critics, and of the public, 
and of artists themselves, as to what is really art and as to 
where its boundary lies the line that divides it from crafts- 
manship and from mere amusement. 

This confusion arises from the fact that people who lack 
the capacity to understand true art judge of works of art 
from one side only, and according to their own characters and 
training observe in them the first, the second, or the third 
side only, imagining and assuming that this one side percep- 
tible to them and the significance of art based on this one 
condition defines the whole of art. Some see only the im- 
portance of the content, others only the beauty of form, and 
others again only the artist's sincerity and therefore truthful- 
ness. And according to what they see, they define the nature 
of art itself, construct their theories, and praise and encourage 



ON ART 87 

those who, like themselves, not understanding wherein a work 
of art consists, turn them out like pancakes and inundate our 
world with foul floods of all kinds of follies and abominations, 
which they call "works of art." 

Such are the majority of people and, as representatives of 
that majority, such were the originators of the three esthetic 
theories already alluded to, which meet the perceptions and 
demands of that majority. 

All these theories are based on a misunderstanding of the 
whole importance of art, and on severing its three funda- 
mental conditions; and therefore these three false theories of 
art clash, as a result of the fact that real art has three funda- 
mental conditions, of which each of those theories accepts but 
one. 

The first theory, of so-called "tendentious" art, accepts as 
a work of art one that has for its subject something which, 
though it be not new, is important to all men by its moral 
content, independently of its beauty and spiritual depth. 

The second ("art for art's sake") recognizes as a work of 
art only that which has beauty of form, independently of its 
novelty, the importance of its content, or its sincerity. 

The third theory, the "realistic," recognizes as a work of 
art only that in which the author is sincerely related to his 
subject and which is therefore truthful. The last theory 
says that however insignificant or even nasty may be the 
content, with a more or less beautiful form, the work will be 
good if the author's relation to what he depicts is sincere and 
therefore truthful. 



VI 

All these theories forget one chief thing that neither im- 
portance, nor beauty, nor sincerity, provides the requisite for 
works of art, but that the basic condition of the production of 



88 TOLSTOY ON ART 

such works is that the artist should be conscious of something 
new and important. And that, therefore, as it always has 
been so it always will be necessary for a true artist to be able 
to perceive something quite new and important. For the 
artist to see what is new, it is necessary that he should ob- 
serve and think, and not occupy his life with trifles which 
hinder his attentive penetration into, and meditation on, life's 
phenomena. In order that the new things he sees may be 
important ones, the artist must be a morally enlightened man 
and he must not live a selfish life, but must share the common 
life of humanity. 

If only he sees what is new and important, he will be sure 
to find a form which will express it, and the sincerity which 
is an essential content of artistic production will be present. 
He must be able to express the new subject so that all may 
understand it. For this he must have such mastery of his 
craft that when working he will think as little about the rules 
of that craft as a man when walking thinks of the laws of 
motion. And in order to attain this, the artist must not look 
round on his work and admire it, must not make technique his 
aim, as one who is walking should not contemplate and admire 
his gait, but should be concerned only to express his subject 
clearly and in such a way as to be intelligible to all. 

Finally, to work at his subject not for external aims but to 
satisfy his inner need, the artist must rise superior to motives 
of avarice and vanity. He must love with his own heart and 
not with another's, and not pretend that he loves what others 
love or consider worthy of love. 

And to attain all this the artist must do as Balaam did 
when the messengers came to him, and he went apart awaiting 
God, so as to say only what God commanded; and he must 
not do as that same Balaam afterwards did when, tempted by 
gifts, he went to the king against God's command, as was 



ON ART 89 

evident even to the ass on which he rode, though not perceived 
by him while blinded by avarice and vanity. 

VII 

In our time nothing of that kind is demanded. A man 
who wishes to follow art need not wait for some important 
and new perception to arise in his soul, which he can sin- 
cerely love and having loved can clothe in suitable form. 
In our time a man who wishes to follow art either takes a 
subject current at the time and one praised by people who in 
his opinion are clever, and clothes it as best he can in what is 
called "artistic form"; or he chooses a subject which gives him 
most opportunity to display his technical skill, and with toil 
and patience produces what he considers to be a work of art; 
or having received some chance impression he takes what 
caused that impression for his subject, imagining that it will 
yield a work of art since it happened to produce an impression 
on him. 

And so there appear an innumerable quantity of so-called 
works of art; which, as in every mechanical craft, can be 
produced without the least intermission. There always are 
current fashionable notions in society, and with patience a 
technique can always be learnt, and something or other will 
always seem interesting to someone. Having separated the 
conditions that should be united in a true work of art, people 
have produced so many works of pseudo-art that the public, 
the critics, and the pseudo-artists themselves, are left quite 
without any definition of what they themselves hold to be 
art. 

The people of to-day have as it were said to themselves: 
" Works of art are good and useful; so it is necessary to pro- 
duce more of them." It would indeed be a very good thing 



90 TOLSTOY ON ART 

if there were more ; but the trouble is that you can only produce 
to order works which are no better than works of mere crafts- 
manship because of their lack of the essential conditions 
of art. 

A really artistic production cannot be made to order, for 
a true work of art is the revelation (by laws beyond our 
grasp) of a new conception of life arising in the artist's soul, 
which, when expressed, lights up the path along which 
humanity progresses. 




PART XI 
AN INTRODUCTION TO "WHAT IS ART?" 

Tolstoy's What is Art? both in Russian and in my translation, appeared in 
separate parts during the first half of 1898. I wrote the following Introduction 
about a year later, for an edition issued in April 1899. 

An estimable and charming Russian lady I knew, felt so 
strongly the charm of the music and ritual of the services 
of the Russo-Greek Church that she wished the peasants, in 
whom she was interested, to retain their blind faith though 
she herself disbelieved the Church doctrines. "Their lives 
are so poor and bare, they have so little art, so little poetry 
and colour in their lives let them at least enjoy what they 
have; it would be cruel to undeceive them," said she. 

Suppose a false and antiquated view of life is supported by 
means of art and is inseparably linked to some manifesta- 
tions of art which we enjoy and prize; if the false view of life 
be destroyed this art will cease to appear valuable. Is it 
better to screen the error for the sake of preserving the art? 
Or should the art be sacrificed for the sake of truth? 

Again and again in history a dominant Church has utilized 
art to maintain its sway over men. Reformers (early Chris- 
tians, Mohammedans, Puritans, and others) have perceived 
that art bound people to the old faith and have been angry 
with art. They diligently chipped the noses from statues 
and images, and were wroth with ceremonies, decorations, 
stained-glass windows, and processions. They were even 
ready to banish art altogether, for besides the superstitions 
it upheld, they saw that it depraved and perverted men by 
dramas, drinking-songs, novels, pictures, and dances, of a 

91 



92 TOLSTOY ON ART 

kind that awakened man's lower nature. Yet art always 
re-asserted her sway and to-day we are told by many that art 
has nothing to do with morality that art should be followed 
for art's sake. 

I went one day with a woman artist to the Bodkin Art 
Gallery, in Moscow. In one of the rooms, on a table, lay a 
book of coloured pictures, issued in Paris and supplied, I 
believe, to private subscribers only. The pictures were admi- 
rably executed, but represented scenes in the private cabinets 
of a restaurant. A particular crisis of sexual indulgence was 
the chief subject of each picture : women extravagantly dressed 
and partly undressed ; women exposing their legs and breasts 
to men in evening dress; men and women taking liberties with 
each other, or dancing the can-can, etc., etc. My companion 
the artist, a maiden lady of irreproachable conduct and repu- 
tation, began deliberately to look at these pictures. I could 
not let my attention dwell on them without ill effects. Such 
things had a certain attraction for me and tended to make me 
restless and nervous. I ventured to suggest that the subjects 
of the pictures were objectionable. But my companion (who 
prided herself on being an artist) remarked with conscious 
superiority that from an artist's point of view the subject was 
of no consequence. The pictures being very well executed 
were artistic, and therefore worthy of attention and study. 
Morality had nothing to do with art. 

Here again is a problem. One remembers Plato's advice 
not to let our thoughts run upon women for if we do we shall 
not think clearly about anything else, and one knows that to 
neglect this advice is to lose tranquillity of mind; but then 
one does not wish to be considered narrow, ascetic, or in- 
artistic, or to lose artistic pleasures which those around us 
esteem so highly. 

Again, the newspapers not long ago printed proposals to 
construct a Wagner Opera House, to cost, if I recollect 



INTRODUCTION 93 

rightly, 100,000 about as much as a hundred labourers 
may earn by five or ten years' hard work. The writers 
thought it would be a good thing if such an Opera House 
were erected and endowed. But I had a talk lately with 
a man who, till his health failed him, had worked as a 
builder in London. He told me that when he was younger 
he had been very fond of theatre-going, but later, when he 
thought things over and considered that in almost every 
number of his weekly paper he read of cases of people whose 
death was hastened by lack of sufficient food, he felt it was not 
right that so much labour should be spent on theatres. 

In reply to this argument it is urged that food for the mind 
is as important as food for the body. As the labouring 
classes work to produce food and necessaries for themselves 
and for the cultured, so some of the cultured class work to 
produce plays and operas. It is a division of labour. But 
this again invites the rejoinder that, sure enough, the la- 
bourers produce food for themselves and also food that the 
cultured class accept and consume ; but that the artists seem too 
often to produce their spiritual food for the cultured only 
at any rate a singularly small share seems to reach the country 
labourers who work to supply the bodily food! Even were 
the division of labour shown to be a fair one, the division of 
products seems remarkably one-sided. 

Once again: How is it that often when a new work is 
produced, neither the critics, the artists, the publishers, nor 
the public, seem to know whether it is valuable or worth- 
less? Some of the most famous books in English literature 
could at first hardly find a publisher, or were savagely derided 
by leading critics; while other works once acclaimed as mas- 
terpieces are now laughed at or utterly forgotten. A play * 
which nobody now reads was once passed off as a newly- 
discovered masterpiece of Shakespeare's, and was produced 

1 Ireland's Vortigern. 



94 TOLSTOY ON ART 

at a leading London theatre. Are the critics playing blind- 
man's buff? Are they relying on each other? Is each fol- 
lowing his own whim and fancy? Or do they possess a 
criterion never revealed to those outside the profession? 

Such are a few of the many problems relating to art which 
present themselves to us all, and it is the purpose of Tolstoy's 
What is Art? to enable us to reach such a comprehension of art, 
and of the position art should occupy in our lives, as will 
enable us to answer these questions. 

The task is one of enormous difficulty. Under the cloak 
of "art" so much selfish amusement and self-indulgence tries 
to justify itself, and so many mercenary interests are con- 
cerned in preventing the light from shining in upon the 
subject, that the clamour raised by this book can only be 
compared to that raised by the silversmiths of Ephesus when 
they shouted, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" for about 
the space of two hours. 

Elaborate theories block the path with subtle sophistries 
or ponderous pseudo-erudition. Merely to master these and 
expose them was by itself a great labour, necessary in order 
to clear the road for any fresh view. To have accomplished 
this in a couple of chapters is a remarkable achievement. 
To have done it without making the book intolerably dry is 
more wonderful still. In Chapter III (where a rapid sum- 
mary of some sixty esthetic writers is given) even Tolstoy's 
powers fail to make the subject interesting, and he has to plead 
with his readers "not to be overcome by dulness, but to read 
these extracts through." 

Among the writers mentioned, English readers miss the 
names of John Ruskin and William Morris, especially as 
much that Tolstoy says is in accord with their views. 

Of Ruskin, Tolstoy has a very high opinion. I once heard 
him say, "I don't know why you English make such a fuss 
about Gladstone you have a much greater man in Ruskin." 



INTRODUCTION 95 

As a stylist, too, Tolstoy spoke of him with high commenda- 
tion. Ruskin, however, though he wrote on art with pro- 
found insight and said many things with which Tolstoy 
fully agrees, as well as some things he dissents from, has, 
I think, nowhere so systematized and summarized his view 
that it can be readily quoted in the concise way which has 
enabled Tolstoy to indicate his points of essential agreement 
with Home (Lord Karnes), Veron, and Kant. 1 

As to William Morris, we are reminded of his dictum that 
art is the workman's expression of joy in his work, by Tol- 
stoy's "As soon as the author is not producing art for his own 
satisfaction does not himself feel what he wishes to express 
a resistance immediately springs up" (p. 267); and again, 
"In such transmission to others of the feelings that have arisen 
in him, he (the artist) will find his happiness" (p. 316). 

1 1 leave this as it stood in the first edition, but after it was written I 
heard from Tolstoy twice on the subject. First, my friend Paul Boulanger wrote 
from Yasnaya Polyana (24th June 1901, O.S.), during an illness of Tolstoy's as 
follows : 

"You ask why Tolstoy did not mention Ruskin in What is Art? He asks me 
to reply that he did not do so: first, because Ruskin attributes a special moral 
importance to beauty in art; and, secondly, because all his writings, rich as they 
are in depth of thought, are yet not bound together by any one ruling idea." 

After Tolstoy's recovery, a letter (undated) reached me on 17th August 1901, 
in which he wrote : 

"I have forgotten what I wrote you about Ruskin, and fear it was not cor- 
rect. I have lately read an excellent book about him, Ruskin et la Bible, I think 
by Brunhes. Ruskin's chief limitation was that he could never quite free 
himself from the Church-Christian outlook upon life. At the time he commenced 
his work on social questions, when he wrote Unto this Last, he freed himself from 
the dogmatic tradition, but a cloudy Church-Christian understanding of the de- 
mands of life which made it possible for him to unite ethical with esthetical 
ideals remained with him to the end and weakened his message. It was also 
weakened by the artificiality, and consequent obscurity, of his poetic style. Do 
not imagine that I deny the work of this great man, who has quite rightly been 
called a prophet. I always was charmed and am charmed by him, but I point 
out spots which exist even on the sun. He is specially good when a wise writer, 
in accord with him, makes extracts from him, as is done in Ruskin et la Bible 
(which read), but to read all Ruskin consecutively, as I did, greatly weakens his 
effect." 



96 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Tolstoy sweeps over a far wider range of thought, but he and 
Morris are not opposed. Morris was emphasizing part of 
what Tolstoy is implying. 

A difficulty not yet mentioned lurks in the hearts of most of 
us. We have enjoyed works of "art." We have been in- 
terested by the psychology analysed in a novel, or we have 
been thrilled by an unexpected "effect"; have admired the 
exactitude with which real life has been reproduced, or have 
had our feelings touched by allusions to, or imitations of, 
works old German legends, Greek myths, or Hebrew poetry 
which moved us long ago, as they moved generations be- 
fore us. And we thought all this was "art." Not clearly 
understanding what art is and wherein its importance lies, 
we were not only attached to these things, but attributed im- 
portance to them, calling them "artistic" and "beautiful" with- 
out well knowing what we meant by those words. 

But here is a book that obliges us to clear our minds. It 
challenges us to define "art" and "beauty," and to say what 
grounds we have for attaching importance to these things that 
happen to please us. 

As to beauty, we find that the definition given by esthetic 
writers amounts merely to this, that "Beauty is a kind of 
pleasure received by us, not having personal advantage for 
its object." But it follows from this, that "beauty" is a mat- 
ter of taste, differing among different people; and to attach 
special importance to what pleases me (and others who have 
had the same sort of training fhat I have had) is merely 
to repeat the old, old mistake which so divides human 
society: it is like declaring that my race is the best race, 
my nation the best nation, my Church the best Church, 
and my family the best family. It indicates ignorance and 
selfishness. 

But "truth angers those whom it does not convince"; there 



INTRODUCTION 97 

are people who do not wish to understand these things. It 
seems, at first, as though Tolstoy were obliging us to sacrifice 
something valuable. We do not realize that we are being 
helped to select the best art, but we do feel that we are being 
deprived of our sense of satisfaction in Baudelaire. 

Both the magnitude and the difficulty of the task were there- 
fore very great, but they have been surmounted in a mar- 
vellous manner. In its construction, in co-ordination, in 
concise presentation of many converging thoughts, this is, 
probably, the most masterly of all Tolstoy's works. 

He was indeed peculiarly qualified for the task he has 
accomplished. It was after many years of work as a writer 
of fiction, and when he was already standing in the very fore- 
most rank of European novelists, 1 that he found himself com- 
pelled to face, in deadly earnest, the deepest problems of 
human life. He not only could not go on writing books, but 
he felt he could not live, unless he found clear guidance, so 
that he might walk with a sure foot and know the purpose and 
meaning of his life. Not s a mere question of speculative 
curiosity but as a rnatter of vital necessity, he devoted years 
to re-discover the truths which underlie all religion. 

To fit him for this task he possessed great knowledge of 
men and books, a wide experience of life, a knowledge of 
languages, and freedom from bondage to any authority but 
that of reason and conscience. He was pinned to no Nicene 
Creed, nor was he in receipt of any retaining fee he was not 
prepared to sacrifice. Another rare gift was his wonderful 
sincerity, and (due, I think, to that sincerity) an amazing 
power of looking at the phenomena of our complex and arti- 
ficial life with the eyes of a child; going straight to the real, 
obvious facts of the case and brushing aside the sophistries, 

1 Boyhood, Childhood and Youth were published in 1851-7. Sevastopol 1855-6. 
Family Happiness 1859. The Cossacks and Polikushka in 1863. War and Peace 
1864-9, and Anna Karenina 1875-7. 



98 TOLSTOY ON ART 

conventionalities, and "authorities" by which they are ob- 
scured. 

He commenced the task when he was about fifty years of 
age, and during the following twenty years produced a dozen 
philosophical works of first-rate importance, besides many 
stories and short articles. 

And all this time the problems of Art What is Art? 
What importance should we attach to it? How is it related 
to the rest of life? were working in his mind. He was a 
great artist, often upbraided for having abandoned his art. 
He, of all men, was bound to clear his thoughts on this per- 
plexing subject and to express them. His whole philosophy 
of life the "religious perception" to which, with such tremen- 
dous labour and effort, he had attained forbade him to 
detach art from life, and place it in a water-tight compart- 
ment where it should not act on life or be re-acted upon by 
life. 

Life to him is rational. It has a clear aim and purpose, 
discernible by the aid of reason and conscience. And no 
human activity can be fully understood or rightly appreciated 
until the central purpose of life is perceived. 

You cannot piece together a puzzle-map as long as you 
keep one bit in a wrong place, but when the pieces ajl fit 
together you have a demonstration that they are all in their 
right places. Tolstoy used that simile years ago when ex- 
plaining how the comprehension of the text, "resist not him 
that is evil," enabled him to perceive the coherence of Christ's 
teaching, which had long baffled him. So it is with the 
problem of Art. Wrongly understood, it tends to confuse 
and perplex one's whole comprehension of life. But the 
clue supplied by true "religious perception" enables us to 
place art so that it fits in with a right understanding of poli- 
tics, economics, sex-relationships, science, and all other 
phases of human activity. 



INTRODUCTION 99 

The basis on which the work rests is a perception of the 
meaning of human life. This was lost sight of by some 
reviewers, who when the book first appeared misrepresented 
what Tolstoy said and then demonstrated how stupid he 
would have been had he said what they attributed to him. 
Leaving his premises and arguments untouched, they dis- 
sented from various conclusions as though it were all a 
question of taste. But such criticism can lead to nothing. 
Discussions as to why one man likes pears and another pre- 
fers meat do not help towards finding a definition of what is 
essential in nourishment; and, just so, "the solution of ques- 
tions of taste in art does not help to make clear what this 
particular human activity which we call art really consists in." 

The object of the following summary of a few main points 
is to help the reader to avoid pitfalls into which many re- 
viewers fell. It aims at being no more than a bare statement 
of the positions for more than that the reader must turn to 
the book itself. 

Let it be granted at the outset that Tolstoy writes for those 
who have ears to hear. He seldom pauses to safeguard him- 
self against the captious critic, and cares little for minute 
verbal accuracy. For instance, on page 266, he mentions 
"Paris," where an English writer (even one who knew to what 
an extent Paris is the art centre of France, and how many 
artists flock thither from Russia, America, and all ends of the 
earth) would have been almost sure to say "France," for fear 
of being thought to exaggerate. One needs some alertness 
of mind to follow Tolstoy in his task of compressing so large 
a subject into so small a space. Moreover, he is an emphatic 
writer, who says what he means and even sometimes over- 
emphasises it. With this much warning let us proceed to a 
brief summary of Tolstoy's view of art. 

"Art is a human activity," and consequently does not exist 
for its own sake, but is valuable or objectionable in propor- 



100 TOLSTOY ON ART 

tion as it is serviceable or harmful to mankind. The object 
of this activity is to transmit to others feelings the artist has 
experienced. Such feelings intentionally re-evoked and 
successfully transmitted to others are the subject-matter of 
all art. By certain external signs movements, lines, colours, 
sounds, or arrangements of words an artist infects other 
people so that they share his feelings. Thus "art is a 
means of union among men, joining them together in the 
same emotions." 

In Chapters II to V of What is Art? we have an examina- 
tion of various theories which have taken art to be something 
other than this, and step by step we are brought to the con- 
clusion that art is precisely what this definition indicates. 

Having got our definition of art, we first consider art inde- 
pendently of its subject-matter, that is without asking whether 
the feelings transmitted are good, bad, or indifferent. With- 
out adequate expression there is no art, for there is no "infec- 
tion," no transference to others of the author's feeling. The 
test of art is infection. If an author has moved you so that 
you feel as he felt, if you are so united to him in feeling that 
it seems to you that he has expressed just what you have long 
wished to express, the work that has so infected you is a 
work of art. 

In this sense it is true that art has nothing to do with 
morality; for the test lies in the infection and not in any 
consideration of the goodness or badness of the emotions con- 
veyed. Thus the test of art is an internal one. The activity 
of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his 
sense of hearing or sight another man's expression of feeling, 
is capable of experiencing the emotion that moved the man 
who expressed it. We all share the same common human 
nature, and in this sense at least are sons of one Father. 
To take the simplest example: a man laughs, and another, 
who hears, becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another, 



INTRODUCTION 101 

who hears, feels sorrow. But note in passing that it does not 
amount to art "if a man infects others directly, immediately, 
at the very time he experiences the feeling: if he causes an- 
other man to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning, and 
so forth." Art begins when someone, with the object of mak- 
ing others share his feeling, expresses that feeling by certain 
external indications. 

This faculty of being infected by the expression of another 
man's emotions is possessed by all normal human beings. 
For a plain man of unperverted taste, living in contact with 
nature, with animals, and with his fellow-men, say, for "a 
country peasant of unperverted taste, this is as easy as it is 
for an animal of unspoilt scent to follow the trace he needs." 
And he will know indubitably whether a work presented to 
him does, or does not, unite him in feeling with the author. 
But very many people "of our circle" (upper and middle- 
class society) live such unnatural lives, in such conventional 
relations to the people around them, and in such artificial 
surroundings* that they have lost "that simple feeling . . . 
that sense of infection with another's feeling compelling us 
to joy in another's gladness, to sorrow in another's grief, and 
to mingle souls with another which is the essence of art." 
Such people, therefore, have no inner test by which to recog- 
nize a work of art; and they will always be mistaking other 
things for art, and seeking for external guides, such as the 
opinions of "recognized authorities." Or they will mistake 
for art something that produces a merely physiological effect : 
lulling or exciting them; or some intellectual puzzle that gives 
them something to think about. 

But if most people of the "cultured crowd" are impervious 
to true art, is it really possible that a common country peasant, 
for instance, whose working-days are filled with labour, and 
whose brief leisure is largely taken up by his family life and 
by his participation in the affairs of his village is it pos- 



102 TOLSTOY ON ART 

sible that he can recognize and be touched by works of art? 
Certainly it is ! Just as in ancient Greece crowds assembled 
to hear the poems of Homer, so to-day in many countries, 
as has been the case in many ages, the Gospel parables, and 
much else of the highest art, are gladly heard by the common 
people. And this does not refer to any religious use of the 
Bible, but to its use as literature. 

Not only do normal labouring country people possess the 
capacity to be infected by good art "the epic of Genesis, 
folk-legends, fairy-tales, folk-songs, etc.," but they them- 
selves produce songs, stories, dances, decorations, and so forth, 
which are works of true art. Take as examples the works of 
Burns or Bunyan, and the peasant women's song mentioned 
in Chapter XIV of What is Art? ; or some of those melodies 
produced by the negro slaves on the southern plantations, 
which have touched, and still touch, many of us with the 
emotions felt by their unknown and unpaid composers. 

The one great quality which makes a work of art truly 
contagious is its sincerity. If an artist is really actuated by a 
feeling, and is strongly impelled to communicate that feeling 
to other people not for money or fame or anything else, but 
because he feels he must impart it then he will not be satis- 
fied till he has found a clear way of expressing it. And the 
man who is not borrowing his feelings, but has drawn what 
he expresses from the depths of his nature, is sure to be 
original, for in the same way that no two people have exactly 
similar faces or forms, no two people have exactly similar 
minds or souls. 

That, in brief outline, is what Tolstoy says about art con- 
sidered apart from its subject-matter. And this is how 
certain critics have met it. They say that when Tolstoy says 
the test of art is internal, he must mean that it is external. 
When he says that country peasants have in the past appre- 



INTRODUCTION 103 

ciated, and do still appreciate, great works of art, he means 
that the way to detect a work of art is to see what is appar- 
ently most popular among the masses. Go into the streets 
or music-halls of the cities in any particular country and 
year, and observe what is most frequently sung, shouted, 
or played on the barrel-organs. It may happen to be 

"Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay , ' ' 
or, 

"We don't want to fight, 
But, by Jingo, if we do!" 

But whatever it is, you may at once declare these songs to 
be the highest musical art, without pausing to ask to what 
they owe their vogue: what actress, or singer, or politician, 
or wave of patriotic passion has conduced to their popularity ! 
Nor need you consider whether that popularity is merely 
temporary and local. Tolstoy has said that works of the 
highest art are understood by unperverted country peasants, 
and here are things which are popular with a town mob 
ergo, these things must be the highest art. The critics then 
proceed to say that such a test is utterly absurd. And on 
this point we may agree with the critics. 

Some pf these writers commence their articles by saying 
that Tolstoy is a most profound thinker, a great prophet, 
an intellectual force, etc. Yet when Tolstoy, in his em- 
phatic way, makes the sweeping remark that "good art always 
pleases everyone," the critics do not read on to find out 
what he means, but reply: "No! good art does not please 
everyone; some people are colour-blind, and some are deaf, 
or have no ear for music." 

It is as though a man strenuously arguing a point were to 
say, "Everyone knows that two and two make four," and 
a boy who did not at all see what the speaker was driving 



104 TOLSTOY ON ART 

at were to reply: "No, our new-born baby doesn't know it! " 
It would be true enough, and would distract attention from 
the subject in hand, but it would not elucidate matters. 

There is, of course, a verbal contradiction between the 
statements that "good art always pleases everyone" (p. 224), 
and the remark concerning "people of our circle," artists and 
public and critics who, "with very few exceptions . . . can- 
not distinguish true works of art from counterfeits, but contin- 
ually mistake for real art the worst and most artificial" 
(p. 273). But I venture to think that no unprejudiced and 
intelligent person, reading the book carefully, should fail to 
reach the author's meaning. 

A point to be well noted is the distinction between science 
and art. "Science investigates and brings to human per- 
ception such truths and such knowledge as the people of a 
given time and society consider most important. Art trans- 
mits these truths from the region of perception to the region 
of emotion." Science is an "activity of the understanding 
which demands preparation and a certain sequence of knowl- 
edge, so that one cannot learn trigonometry before knowing 
geometry." "This business of art", on the other hand, 
"lies just in this: to make that understood and felt which 
in the form of an argument might be incomprehensible and 
inaccessible" (p. 225). It "infects any man, whatever his 
plane of development," and "(as is said in the Gospel) the 
hindrance to understanding the best and highest feelings does 
not at all lie in deficiency of development or learning, but, on 
the contrary, in false development and false learning" 
(p. 226). Science and art are frequently blended in one 
work, e. g., in the Gospel elucidation of Christ's comprehen- 
sion of life, or, to take a modern instance, in Henry George's 
elucidation of the land question in Social Problems. 

The class distinction to which Tolstoy repeatedly alludes 
needs some explanation. The position of the lower classes 



INTRODUCTION 105 

in England and in Russia is different. In Russia a much 
larger number of people live on the verge of starvation, the 
condition of the factory-hands is much worse than in Eng- 
land, and there are many glaring cases of brutal cruelty in- 
flicted on the peasants by the officials, the police, or the mili- 
tary; but in Russia a far greater proportion of the popula- 
tion live in the country, and a peasant usually has his own 
house and tills his share of the communal lands. Though 
Tolstoy puts forward no claim that the Russian peasants 
are more susceptible to art than men of other nationalities, yet 
he had them before his eyes and in speaking of an "un- 
perverted country peasant" he was no doubt thinking of a 
man who perhaps suffered grievous want when there was a bad 
harvest in his province but who was accustomed to the ex- 
periences of a natural life, to the management of his own af- 
fairs, and to a real voice in all the arrangements of the village 
commune. The Government interfered from time to time to 
collect its taxes by force, to take the young men for soldiers, 
or to maintain the "rights" of the upper classes; but otherwise 
the peasant was free to do what he saw to be necessary and 
reasonable. On the other hand, English labourers are, for 
the most part, not so poor, they have more legal rights and 
they have votes ; but a far larger number of them live in towns 
and are engaged in unnatural occupations, while even those 
that do live in touch with nature are usually mere wage- 
earners tilling other men's land, and living often in abject sub- 
mission to the farmer, the parson, or the lady-bountiful. 
They are dependent on an employer for daily bread, and the 
condition of a wage-labourer is as unnatural as that of a 
landlord. 

The tyranny of the Petersburg bureaucracy was more dra- 
matic but less omnipresent, and probably far less fatal to the 
capacity to enjoy art, than the tyranny of our respectable, 
self-satisfied, and property-loving middle-class. I am, there- 



106 TOLSTOY ON ART 

fore, afraid that we have no great number of "unperverted" 
country labourers to compare with those of whom Tolstoy 
spoke, some of whom I have known personally. But the 
truth Tolstoy elucidates lies too deep in human nature to 
be infringed by such differences of local circumstance. 
Whatever those circumstances may be, the fact remains that 
in proportion as a man approaches towards the condition not 
only of "earning his subsistence by some kind of labour," 
but of "living on all its sides the life natural and proper 
to mankind," his capacity to appreciate true art tends to in- 
crease. On the other hand, when a class settles down into 
an artificial way of life loses touch with nature, becomes 
confused in its perceptions of what is good and what is bad, 
and prefers the condition of a parasite to that of a producer 
its capacity to appreciate true art must diminish. Losing all 
clear perception of the meaning of life, such people are neces- 
sarily left without any criterion which will enable them to 
distinguish good from bad art, and they are sure to follow 
eagerly after beauty, that is to say after "that which pleases 
them." 

The artists of our society can usually only reach people of 
the upper and middle classes. But is the great artist he 
who delights a select audience of his own day and class, or 
he whose works link generation to generation and race to 
race in a common bond of feeling? Surely art should fulfil 
its purpose as completely as possible. A work of art that 
united every one with the author and with one another would 
be perfect art. Tolstoy, in his emphatic way, speaks of works 
of "universal" art, and (though the profound critics hasten 
to inform us that no work of art ever reached everybody) 
certainly the more nearly a work of art approaches to such 
expression of feeling that every one may be infected by it, 
the nearer (apart from all question of subject-matter) it 
approaches perfection. 




INTRODUCTION 107 

tut now as to subject-matter. The subject-matter of art 
consists of feelings which can be spread from man to man, 
feelings which are "contagious" or "infectious." Is it of no 
importance what feelings increase and multiply among men? 

One man feels that submission to the authority of his 
Church, and belief in all that it teaches him, is good; another 
is imbued by a sense of each man's duty to think with his 
own head : to use for his guidance in life the reason and con- 
science given him. One man feels that his nation ought to 
wipe out in blood the shame of a defeat inflicted on her; an- 
other feels that we are brothers, sons of one spirit, and that 
the slaughter of man by man is always wrong. One man 
feels that the most desirable thing in life is the satisfaction 
obtainable by the love of women ; another man feels that sex- 
love is an entanglement and a snare, hindering his real work 
in life. And each of these, if he possess an artist's gift of 
expression and if the feeling be really his own and sincere, 
may infect other men. But some of these feelings will benefit 
and some will harm mankind, and the more widely they are 
spread the greater will be their effect. 

Art unites men. Surely it is desirable that the feelings in 
which it unites them should be "the best and highest to which 
men have risen," or at least should not run contrary to our 
perception of what makes for the well-being of ourselves and 
of others. And our perception of what makes for the well- 
being of ourselves and of others is what Tolstoy calls our 
"religious perception." 

Therefore the subject-matter of what we in our day can es- 
teem as being the best art, can be of two kinds only: 

1) Feelings flowing from the highest perception now at- 
tainable by man of our right relation to our neighbour and 
to the Source from which we come. Of such art, Dickens's 
Christmas Carol, uniting us in a more vivid sense of compas- 
sion and love, is a ready example. 



108 TOLSTOY ON ART 

2) The simple feelings of common life, accessible to every 
one, provided that they are such as do not hinder progress 
towards well-being. Art of this kind makes us realize to how 
great an extent we already are members one of another, shar- 
ing the feelings of one common human nature. 

The success of a very primitive novel, the story of Joseph, 
which made its way into the sacred books of the Jews, spread 
from land to land and from age to age, and continues to be 
read to-day among people quite free from bibliolatry shows 
how nearly "universal" may be the appeal of this kind of 
art. This branch includes all harmless jokes, folk-stories, 
nursery rhymes, and even dolls, if only the author or designer 
has expressed a feeling (tenderness, pleasure, humour, or 
what not) so as to infect others. 

But how are we to know what are the "best" feelings? 
What is good? and what is evil? This is decided by 
religious perception. Some such perception exists in every 
human being; there is always something he approves of, 
and something he disapproves of. Reason and conscience 
are always present, active or latent, as long as man lives. 
Lady Lugard tells us that the most degraded cannibal she 
ever met drew the line at eating his own mother: nothing 
would induce him to entertain the idea, his moral sense was 
revolted by the suggestion. In more advanced societies the 
religious perception they have reached the foremost stage 
which has been discerned in mankind's long march towards 
perfection has been clearly expressed by someone, and more 
or less consciously accepted as an ideal by the many. But 
there are transition periods in history when the worn-out for- 
mularies of a past age have ceased to satisfy men, or have be- 
come so incrusted with superstitions that their original bright- 
ness is lost. The religious perception that is dawning may 
not yet have found such expression as to be generally under- 
stood, but for all that it exists, and shows itself by compelling 






INTRODUCTION 109 

men to repudiate beliefs that satisfied their forefathers, the 
outward and visible signs of which are still endowed and 
dominant long after their spirit has taken refuge in temples 
not made with hands. 

At such times it is difficult for men to understand each 
other, for the very words needed to express the deepest ex- 
periences of men's consciousness mean different things to 
different men. So, among us to-day, to many minds "faith" 
means "credulity," and "God" suggests a person of the male 
sex, father of one only-begotten son, and creator of the 
universe. 

This is w T hy Tolstoy's rational religious perception, ex- 
pressed in the books he wrote during the last thirty years of 
his life, is frequently spoken of by people who have not 
grasped it, as "mysticism." 1 

The narrow materialist is shocked to find that Tolstoy will 
not confine himself to the "objective" view of life. En- 
countering in himself that "inward voice" which compels us 
all to choose between good and evil, Tolstoy refuses to be 
diverted from a matter of immediate and vital importance 
to him by discussions as to the derivation of the external 
manifestations of conscience which biologists are able to detect 
in remote forms of life. The mystic, on the other hand, 
shrinks from Tolstoy's desire to try all things by the light of 
reason, to depend on nothing vague, and to accept nothing on 
authority. The man who does not trust his own reason, 
fears that life thus squarely faced will prove less worth hav- 
ing than it is when clothed in mist. 

In this work, however, Tolstoy does not recapitulate at 
length what he has said before. He does not pause to re- 

1 As the term "mystic" is used in more than one sense in English, I must ex- 
plain that I use it to denote one who believes in a wisdom "sacredly obscure or 
secret" (Chambers's Dictionary), or "not discriminated or tested by the reason" 
(Century Dictionary) . This is the sense in which it would generally be used in 
Russian, and in which Tolstoy uses the word. 



110 TOLSTOY ON ART 

explain why he condemns patriotism, that is, each man's pref- 
erence for the predominance of his own country, which leads 
to the slaughter of man by man in war; or Churches, which 
are sectarian, that is, which (striving to assert that your doxy 
is heterodoxy, but our doxy is orthodoxy) make external au- 
thorities (Popes, Bibles, Councils) supreme, and cling to 
superstitions (their own miracles, legends, and myths), thus 
separating themselves from communion with the rest of man- 
kind. He merely summarizes it all in a few sentences, de- 
fining the "religious perception" of to-day, which alone can 
decide for us "the degree of importance both of the feelings 
transmitted by art and of the information transmitted by 
science." 

"The religious perception of our time, in its widest and 
most practical application, is the consciousness that our well- 
being, both material and spiritual, individual and collective, 
temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of brotherhood 
among men in their loving harmony With one another" 
(p. 281). 

And again: 

"However differently in form people belonging to our 
Christian world may define the destiny of man : whether they 
see it in human progress in whatever sense of the words, in 
the union of all men in a socialist realm, or in the establish- 
ment of a commune; whether they look forward to the 
union of mankind under the guidance of one universal 
Church, or to a federation of the world however various 
in form their definitions of the destination of human life may 
be, all men in our times already admit that the highest well- 
being attainable by men is to be reached by their union with 
one another" (p. 309). 

This is the foundation on which the whole work is based. 
It follows necessarily from this perception that we should 
consider as most important in science "investigations into the 




INTRODUCTION 111 

results of good and bad actions, considerations of the reason- 
ableness or unreasonableness of human institutions and be- 
liefs, considerations of how human life should be lived in 
order to obtain the greatest well-being for each; as to what 
one may and should, and what one cannot and should not 
believe; how to subdue one's passions, and how to acquire 
the habit of virtue." This is the science that occupied the 
greatest sages of the ancient world, and it is precisely to 
this kind of scientific investigation that Tolstoy devoted most 
of the last thirty years of his life, and for the sake of which 
the author of Resurrection was often said to have "abandoned 
art." 

Since science, like art, is "a human activity," that science 
best deserves our esteem, best deserves to be "chosen, tolerated, 
approved, and diffused," which treats of what is supremely 
important to man; which deals with urgent, vital, inevitable 
problems of actual life. Such science as this brings "to the 
consciousness of men the truths that flow from the religious 
perception of our times," and "indicates the various methods 
of applying this consciousness to life." "Art should trans- 
form this perception into feeling." 

Experimental science studies questions of pure curiosity, 
or things harmful to mankind (such as quick-firing cannon), 
or technical improvements which in a better state of society 
would lighten the workers' burden. But, even at its best, 
such science "cannot serve as a basis for art," for it is 
occupied with subjects unrelated to human conduct. 

Naturally enough, the last chapter of the book deals with 
the relation between science and art. And the conclusion 
is, that: 

"The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the realm 
of reason to the realm of feeling, the truth that well-being 
for men consists in being united together, and to set up, in 
place of the existing reign of force, that kingdom of God 



112 TOLSTOY ON ART 

that is, of love which we all recognize to be the highest aim 
of human life" (p. 333). 

And this art of the future will, in subject-matter, not be 
poorer, but far richer, than the art of to-day. From the 
lullaby that will delight millions of people, generation after 
generation to the highest religious art, dealing with strong, 
rich, and varied emotions flowing from a fresh outlook upon 
life and all its problems, the field open for good art is enor- 
mous. With so much to say that is urgently important to 
all, the art of the future will, in matter of form, also, be far 
superior to our art in "clearness, beauty, simplicity, and com- 
pression" (p. 315). 

For beauty (which is "that which pleases") though it de- 
pends on taste, and can furnish no criterion for art will be a 
natural characteristic of work done, not for hire nor even 
for fame, but because men, living a natural and healthy life, 
wish to share the "highest spiritual strength which passes 
through them" with the greatest possible number of others. 
The feelings such an artist wishes to share he will transmit 
in a way that will please him and will therefore please other 
men who share his nature. 

In the subject-matter of art that really lives, morality is as 
unavoidable as in life itself. It is in the nature of things and 
we cannot escape it. 

In a society where each man sets himself to obtain wealth, 
the difficulty of obtaining an honest living tends to become 
greater and greater. The more keenly a society pants to 
obtain "that which pleases," and puts this forward as the first 
and great consideration, the more puerile and worthless will 
its art become. But in a society which seeks primarily for 
right relations between its members, an abundance will be ob- 
tainable for all; and when "religious perception" guides a 
peopled art beauty inevitably results, as has always been 



INTRODUCTION 113 

the case when men have seized a fresh perception of life and 
of its purpose. 

Tried by such tests the enormous majority of the things 
we have been taught to consider great works of art are found 
wanting. Either they fail to infect (and attract merely by 
being interesting, realistic, dramatic, or by borrowing from 
others) and are therefore not works of art at all; or they are 
works of "exclusive art," poor in form and capable of infect- 
ing only a select audience trained and habituated to such 
inferior art; or they are bad in subject-matter, transmitting 
feelings harmful to mankind. 

But strive as we may to be clear and explicit, our approval 
and disapproval is a matter of degree. The thought which 
underlay the remark: "Why callest thou me good? none is 
good, save one, even God," applies, not to man only but to 
all things human. 

Tolstoy does not shrink from condemning his own artistic 
productions; with the exception of two short stories, 1 he 
tells us, they are works of bad art. Take, for instance, the 
novel Resurrection, of which he has somewhere spoken dis- 
paragingly, as being "written in my former style." What 
does this mean? The book is a masterpiece in its own line; 
it undoubtedly infects many people, and the feelings trans- 
mitted are in the main such as Tolstoy approves of: in fact, 
they are the feelings to which his religious perception has 
brought him. If for a moment lust is shown, the reaction 
follows as inevitably as in real life and is transmitted with 
great artistic power. Tolstoy approved of treating all the 
problems of life, including the sex-question, quite plainly and 
explicitly. To guide us in life we need, not ignorance nor 
evasion of facts, but soundness of religious perception, clear- 

1 Both of which were written in the interval between War and Peace and Anna 
Karenina (1869-1872) and are included in the volume of Twenty-three Tales. 



114 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ness of thought, and a right direction and development of feel- 
ing. In subject-matter then Resurrection is as clearly a 
work of religious art as any novel mentioned by Tolstoy in 
What is Art? And with regard to the manner in which the 
matter is presented, I think it may safely be said that in 
"clearness," as well as in "simplicity and compression,' ' it 
stands easily first among Tolstoy's novels. Of its "individu- 
ality and sincerity," to say that it equals his former works is to 
say that it is unsurpassed in those qualities by any novel we 
possess. Why the work did not satisfy Tolstoy is, I think, 
because it is a work of "exclusive art," laden with details of 
time and place. "Simplicity and compression" it possesses, 
but not in the degree required in works of "universal" art. It 
is a novel appealing mainly to the class that has leisure for 
novel-reading because it neglects to produce its own food, 
make its own clothes, or build its own houses. But if these 
considerations apply to Resurrection, they apply with at least 
equal force to all the best novels extant. If Tolstoy is some- 
times severe on others, it must be admitted that he is at least 
as severe on himself, and to enable us to discern the com- 
parative merits of different works of art we may use his prin- 
ciples without applying them as exactingly as he does himself. 
There is one defect in Tolstoy's writings in general which 
needs to be noted. It is observable in his novels, but it is 
more serious in his essays and in his philosophical works. 
He does not write in a style always easy to read. He expects 
more strenuous co-operation from his readers than can safely 
be looked for from the ordinary man. His sentences are often 
long, sometimes extremely involved, and occasionally even 
faulty in structure. The strenuous labour he puts into his 
work all goes to elucidate his perception of the matter, and the 
sequence of the ideas. For the mere phraseology he trusted 
to his great power of expression, and he had as little inclina- 
tion to polish it on a final revision as when writing the first 



INTRODUCTION 115 

rough draft. He would re-shape an article again and again 
if the thoughts expressed did not satisfy him. But he would 
sometimes leave uncorrected a careless sentence which 
might baffle many an unwary reader. This characteristic was 
not noticeable in his earlier works, when the matter he wrote 
about was less absorbingly important. 1 He certainly in his 
later years cared nothing at all for the elegant phraseology 
so highly prized by writers who having nothing particular to 
express attach supreme importance to their power of expres- 
sion. But his readers have occasionally to pay for his in- 
difference. 

What is Art? itself is a philosophical work, though many 
passages, and even some whole chapters, appeal to us as 
works of art, and we feel the contagion of the author's hope, 
his anxiety to serve the cause of truth and love, his indigna- 
tion (sometimes rather sharply expressed) at whatever blocks 
the path of progress, and his contempt for much that the 
"cultured crowd" in our erudite, perverted society have per- 
suaded themselves, and would fain persuade others, is the 
highest art. 

One result which follows inevitably from Tolstoy's view 
(and which illustrates how widely his views differ from the 
fashionable esthetic mysticism), is that art is not stationary 
but progressive. It is true that our highest religious percep- 
tion found expression eighteen hundred years ago, and then 
served as the basis of a literary art which is still unmatched, 
and that similar cases can be instanced from the farther 
East. But allowing for such great exceptions to which, not 
inaptly, the term "inspiration" has been specially applied 
the subject-matter of art improves, though long periods of 
time may have to be viewed to make this obvious. Our 

1 Indeed, in the earlier period of his literary activity he devoted much attention 
to style, and spent great pains upon it. About the period at which he wrote 
Three Deaths (1859), it is said, the style of his great artistic contemporary, 
Turgenev, exercised much influence on his own. 



116 TOLSTOY ON ART 

power of verbal expression may be no better now than it was 
in the days of David, but we must no longer esteem as good 
in subject-matter poems which appeal to the Eternal to destroy 
a man's private or national foes; for we have reached a 
religious perception which bids us have no foes, and the ulti- 
mate source (undefinable by us) from which this conscious- 
ness has come, is what we mean when we speak of God. 



PART XII 
WHAT IS ART? 

Tolstoy's Preface to the First English Edition, translated 
by Aylmer Maude from the Original Mss. 

This book of mine, "What is Art?" appears now for the 
first time in its true form. More than one edition has already 
been issued in Russia, but in each case it has been so muti- 
lated by the Censor that I request all who are interested in 
my views on art only to judge of them by the work in its 
present shape. The causes which led to the publication of 
the book with my name attached to it in a mutilated form, 
were the following: In accordance with a decision I arrived 
at long ago, not to submit my writings to the Censorship 
(which I consider to be an immoral and irrational institu- 
tion), but to print them only in the shape in which they were 
written, I intended not to attempt to print this work in Rus- 
sia. However, my good acquaintance Professor Grote, editor 
of a Moscow psychological magazine, having heard of the 
contents of my work asked me to print it in his magazine, and 
promised me that he would get the book through the Censor's 
office unmutilated if I would but agree to a few very unim- 
portant alterations, merely toning down certain expressions. 
I was weak enough to agree to this, and it has resulted in a 
book appearing under my name, from which not only have 
some essential thoughts been excluded, but into which the 
thoughts of other men even thoughts utterly opposed to my 
own convictions have been introduced. 

The thing occurred in this way. First Grote softened my 

117 



118 TOLSTOY ON ART 

expressions and in some cases weakened them. For instance, 
he replaced the words: always by sometimes, all by some, 
Church religion by Roman Catholic religion, "Mother of 
God" by Madonna, patriotism by pseudo- patriotism, palaces 
by palatii, 1 etc., and I did not consider it necessary to protest. 
But when the book was already in type, the Censor required 
that whole sentences should be altered, and that instead of 
what I said about the evil of landed property, a remark 
should be substituted on the evils of a landless proletariat. 1 
I agreed to this also and to some further alterations. It 
seemed not worth while to upset the whole affair for the sake 
of one sentence, and when one alteration had been agreed to 
it seemed not worth while to protest against a second and 
a third. Thus little by little expressions crept into the book 
which altered the sense and attributed things to me that I 
could not have wished to say. So that by the time the book 
was printed it had been deprived of some part of its integrity 
and sincerity. But there was consolation in the thought that 
the book, even in this form, if it contains something good, 
would be of use to Russian readers whom it would otherwise 
not have reached. Things however turned out otherwise. 
Nous comptions sans notre hote. After the legal term of 
four days had already elapsed, the book was seized and, on 
instructions received from Petersburg, it was handed over to 
the Spiritual Censor. Then Grote declined all further par- 

1 Tolstoy's remarks on Church religion were re-worded so as to seem to re- 
late only to the Western Church, and his disapproval of luxurious life was made 
to apply not, say, to Queen Victoria or Nicholas II, but to the Caesars or the 
Pharaohs. 

2 The Russian peasant was usually a member of a village commune, and had 
therefore a right to share in the land belonging to the village. Tolstoy disap- 
proved of the order of society which allows less land for the support of a whole 
village full of people than was sometimes owned by a single landed proprietor. 
The Censor did not allow disapproval of this state of things to be expressed, but 
was prepared to admit that the laws and customs, say, of England where a yet 
more extreme form of landed property existed and the men who actually labour 
on the land usually possessed none of it deserved criticism. A. M. 



PREFACE TO "WHAT IS ART?" 119 



ticipation in the affair, and the Spiritual Censor proceeded 
to do what he liked with the book. The Spiritual Censor- 
ship is one of the most ignorant, venal, stupid, and despotic 
institutions in Russia. Books which disagree in any way 
with the recognised State religion of Russia, if once it gets 
hold of them, are almost always totally suppressed and burnt ; 
which is what happened to all my religious works when at- 
tempts were made to print them in Russia. Probably a 
similar fate would have overtaken this work also, had not 
the editors of the magazine employed all means to save it. 
The result of their efforts was that the Spiritual Censor, a 
priest who probably understands art and is interested in art 
as much as I understand or am interested in church services, 
but who gets a good salary for destroying whatever is likely 
to displease his superiors, struck out all that seemed to him 
to endanger his position, and substituted his thoughts for 
mine wherever he considered it necessary to do so. For in- 
stance, where I speak of Christ going to the Cross for the 
sake of the truth he professed, the Censor substituted a state- 
ment that Christ died for mankind, that is, he attributed to 
me an assertion of the dogma of the Redemption, which I 
consider to be one of the most untruthful and harmful of 
Church dogmas. After correcting the book in this way, the 
Spiritual Censor allowed it to be printed. 

To protest in Russia is impossible; no newspaper would 
publish such a protest, and to withdraw my book from the 
magazine and place the editor in an awkward position with 
the public was also impossible. 

So the matter has remained. A book has appeared under 
my name containing thoughts attributed to me which are not 
mine. 

I was persuaded to give my article to a Russian magazine 
in order that my thoughts, which may be useful, should be- 
come the possession of Russian readers; and the result has 



120 TOLSTOY ON ART 

been that my name is affixed to a work from which it might 
be assumed that I quite arbitrarily assert things contrary to 
the general opinion, without adducing my reasons; that I 
only consider false patriotism bad, but patriotism in general 
a very good feeling ; that I merely deny the absurdities of the 
Roman Catholic Church and disbelieve in the Madonna, 
but that I believe in the Orthodox Eastern faith and in the 
"Mother of God"; tnat I consider all the writings collected 
in the Bible to be holy books, and see the chief importance 
of Christ's life in the Redemption of mankind by his death. 

I have narrated all this in such detail because it strikingly 
illustrates the indubitable truth, that all compromise with in- 
stitutions of which your conscience disapproves, com- 
promises which are usually made for the sake of the general 
good, instead of producing the good you expect, inevitably 
lead you not only to acknowledge the institution you dis- 
approve of, but also to participate in the evil that institution 
produces. 

I am glad to be able by this statement at least to do some- 
thing to correct the error into which I was led by my com- 
promise. 

I have also to mention that besides reinstating the parts 
excluded by the Censor from the Russian editions, other cor- 
rections and additions of importance have been made in this 
edition. 

Leo Tolstoy. 

29th March 1898. 

NOTE: 

When a subscription edition of Tolstoy's works edited by Professor Leo 
Wiener, was published in 1904, by Dana Estes in U. S. A. and G. M. Dent & 
Co. in London, this request of Tolstoy's to "all who are interested in my views 
on art only to judge of them by the work in its present shape," was disregarded, 
another version was substituted, and incidentally this preface was omitted from 
that "complete edition" of his works. 



PART XIII 

WHAT IS ART? 

CONTENTS 

CHAPTER I 

Time and labour spent on art Lives stunted in its service Morality sacrificed to, 
and anger justified by, art The rehearsal of an opera described. 

CHAPTER II 

Does art compensate for so much evil? What is art? Confusion of opinions 
Is it "that which produces beauty"? The word "beauty" in Russian Chaos 
in esthetics. 

CHAPTER III 

Summary of various esthetic theories and definitions, from Baumgarten to the 
present day. 

CHAPTER IV 

Definitions of art founded on beauty Taste not definable A clear definition 
needed to enable us to recognise works of art. 

CHAPTER V 

Definitions not founded on beauty Tolstoy's definition The extent and neces- 
sity of art How people in the past distinguished good from bad in art. 

CHAPTER VI \ 

How art for pleasure came into esteem Religions indicate what is considered 
good and bad Church Christianity The Renaissance Scepticism of the 
upper classes They confound beauty with goodness. 

CHAPTER VII 

An esthetic theory framed to suit the view of life of the ruling classes. 

CHAPTER VIII 

Who have adopted it? Real art needful for all men Our art too expensive, too 
unintelligible, and too harmful, for the masses "The elect" in art. 

121 



/ 



122 TOLSTOY ON ART 

CHAPTER IX 

Perversion of our art It has lost its natural subject-matter Has no flow of fresh 
feeling Transmits chiefly three base emotions. 

CHAPTER X 

Loss of comprehensibility Decadent art Recent French art Have we a right 
to say it is bad, and that what we like is good art? The highest art has al- 
ways been comprehensible to normal people What fails to infect normal peo- 
ple is not art. 

CHAPTER XI 

Counterfeits of art produced by: Borrowing; Imitating; Arranging effects; 
Creating interest Qualifications needful for the production of real works of 
art, and those sufficient for production of counterfeits. 

CHAPTER XII 

Causes of production of counterfeits Professionalism Criticism Schools of art. 

CHAPTER XIII 

Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung" a type of counterfeit art Its success, and the 
reasons thereof. 

CHAPTER XIV 

Truths fatal to preconceived views are not readily recognised Proportion of 
works of art to counterfeits Perversion of taste and incapacity to recognise 
art Examples. 

CHAPTER XV 

The quality of art, considered apart from its subject-matter The sign of 
art: infectiousness Incomprehensible to those whose taste is perverted 
Conditions of infection : Individuality ; Clearness ; Sincerity. 

CHAPTER XVI 

The quality of art, considered according to its subject-matter The better 
the feeling the better the art The cultured crowd The religious perception 
of our age New ideals put fresh demands to art Art unites Religious 
art Universal art Both co-operate to one result The new appraisement of 
art Bad art Examples of art How to test a work claiming to be art. 

CHAPTER XVII 

Results of absence of true art Results of perversion of art: Labour and lives 
spent on what is useless and harmful The abnormal life of the rich Per- 
plexity of children and plain folk Confusion of right and wrong Nietzsche 
and Redbeard Superstition, Patriotism, and Sensuality. 



WHAT IS ART? 123 

CHAPTER XVIII 

The purpose of human life is the brotherly union of man Art must be guided by 
this perception. 

CHAPTER XIX 

The art of the future not the possession of a select minority, but a means toward 
perfection and unity. 

CHAPTER XX 

The connection between science and art The mendacious sciences; the trivial 
sciences Science should deal with the great problems of human life and 
serve as a basis for art. 

APPENDICES 

Appendix I. Translations of French poems and prose quoted in Chap. X of 

What is Art? 
Appendix II. Translation from Mallarme. 

Appendix III. Poems by Henri de Regnier, Viele-Griffin, Verhaeren, Moreas, and 

Montesquiou, with translations. 
Appendix IV. The contents of Wagner's Nibelung en Ring. 

(This Table of Contents is compiled by the translator.) 



CHAPTER I 

Time and labour spent on art. Lives stunted in its service. Morality sacrificed 
to, and anger justified by, art. The rehearsal of the opera described. 

Take up any one of our ordinary newspapers and you will 
find a part devoted to the theatre and music. In almost 
every number you will find a description of some art- 
exhibition or of some particular picture, and you will always 
find reviews of new works of art that have appeared: of 
volumes of poems, of short stories, or of novels. 

Promptly and in detail as soon as it has occurred, an ac- 
count is published of how such and such an actress or actor 
played this or that role in such and such a drama, comedy, 
or opera, and of the merits of the performance; as well as 
of the contents of the new drama, comedy, or opera, with 
its defects and merits. With as much care and detail or 
even more, we are told how such and such an artist has sung 
a certain piece, or has played it on the piano or violin, and 
what were the merits and defects of the piece and of the per- 
formance. In every large town there is sure to be at least 
one, if not more than one, exhibition of new pictures, the 
merits and defects of which are discussed in the utmost de- 
tail by critics and connoisseurs. 

New novels and poems, in separate volumes or in the 
magazines, appear almost every day, and the newspapers con- 
sider it their duty to give their readers detailed accounts of 
these artistic productions. 

For the support of art in Russia (where for the education 
of the people only a hundredth part is spent of what would 
be required to give everyone an opportunity of instruction) 

124 



WHAT IS ART? 125 

the Government grants millions of roubles in subsidies to 
academies, conservatoires, and theatres. In France twenty 
million francs are assigned for art, and similar grants are 
made in Germany and elsewhere. 

In every large town enormous buildings are erected for 
museums, academies, conservatoires, dramatic schools, and 
for performances and concerts. Hundreds of thousands of 
workmen, carpenters, masons, painters, joiners, paper- 
hangers, tailors, hairdressers, jewellers, moulders, type- 
setters, spend their whole lives in hard labour to satisfy the 
demands of art; so that hardly any other department of hu- 
man activity, the military excepted, consumes so much energy 
as this. 

Not only is enormous labour spent on this activity, but in 
it as in war the very lives of men are sacrificed. Hundreds 
of thousands of people devote their lives from childhood to 
learning to twirl their legs rapidly (dancers), or to touch 
notes and strings very rapidly (musicians), or to draw with 
paint and represent what they see (artists), or to turn every 
phrase inside out and find a rhyme to every word. And I 
these people, often very kind and clever and capable of all I 
sorts of useful labour, grow savage over their specialised and 
stupefying occupations and become one-sided and self- 
complacent specialists, dull to all the serious phenomena of 
life and skilful only at rapidly twisting their legs, their 
tongues, or their fingers. 

But even this stunting of human life is not the worst. I 
remember being once at the rehearsal of one of the most ordi- 
nary of the new operas which are produced at all the opera 
houses of Europe and America. 

I arrived when the first act had already commenced. To 
reach the auditorium I had to pass through the stage- 
entrance. By dark entrances and passages, past immense 
machines for changing the scenery and for lighting the stage 



126 TOLSTOY ON ART 

and the theatre, I was led through the vaults of an enormous 
building; and there in the gloom and dust I saw workmen 
busily engaged. One of these men pale, haggard, in a 
dirty blouse, with dirty, work-worn hands and cramped 
fingers, evidently tired and out of humour went past me, 
angrily scolding another man. Ascending by a dark stair, 
I came out on the boards behind the scenes. Amid various 
poles and rings and scattered scenery decorations and cur- 
tains, stood and moved dozens, if not hundreds, of painted 
and dressed-up men in costumes fitting tight to their thighs 
and calves, and also women, who were as usual, as nearly 
nude as might be. These were all singers, or members of the 
chorus, or ballet-dancers, awaiting their turns. My guide 
led me across the stage and, by means of a bridge of boards, 
across the orchestra (in which perhaps a hundred musicians 
of all kinds, from kettle-drum to flute and harp, were seated), 
to the dark pit-stalls. 

On an elevation between two lamps with reflectors and in 
an arm-chair placed before a music-stand, sat the director of 
the musical part, baton in hand, managing the orchestra and 
singers and in general the production of the whole opera. 

The performance had already commenced, and on the 
stage was being represented a procession of Indians who had 
brought home a bride. Besides men and women in costume, 
two other men in ordinary clothes bustled and ran about on 
the stage: one was the director of the dramatic part, and the 
other, who stepped about in soft shoes and ran from place to 
place with unusual agility, was the dancing-master, whose 
salary per month exceeded what ten labourers earn in a year. 

These three directors arranged the singing, the orchestra, 
and the procession. The procession, as usual, was enacted 
by men and women in couples with tinfoil halberds on their 
shoulders. They all came from one place and walked round 
and round again and then stopped. The procession took a 



WHAT IS ART? 127 

long time to arrange : first the Indians with halberds came on 
too late, then too soon; then at the right time, but crowded to- 
gether at the exit; then they did not crowd, but arranged them- 
selves badly at the sides of the stage, and each time the 
whole performance was stopped and recommenced from the 
beginning. The procession is preceded by a recitative, de- 
livered by a man dressed up like some variety of Turk, who, 
opening his mouth in a curious way, sings, "Home I bring 
the bri-i-ide." He sings, and waves his arm (which is of 
course bare) from under his mantle. The procession com- 
mences. But here the French horn, in the accompaniment of 
the recitative, does something wrong ; and the director, with a 
shudder as if some catastrophe had occurred, raps with his 
stick on the stand. All is stopped, and the director, turning 
to the orchestra, attacks the French horn, scolding him in the 
rudest terms, as cabmen abuse one another, for taking the 
wrong note. And again the whole thing recommences. The 
Indians with their halberds again come on, treading softly in 
their extraordinary boots; again the singer sings, "Home I 
bring the bri-i-ide." But here the pairs get too close to- 
gether. More raps with the stick, more scolding, and a re- 
commencement. Again "Home I bring the bri-i-ide," again 
the same gesticulation with the bare arm from under 
the mantle, and again the couples, treading softly with hal- 
berds on their shoulders, some with sad and serious faces, 
some talking and smiling, arrange themselves in a circle and 
begin to sing. All seems to be going well, but again the stick 
raps and the director, in a distressed and angry voice, begins 
to scold the men and women of the chorus. It appears that 
when singing they had omitted to raise their hands from time 
to time in sign of animation. "Are you all dead, or what? 
Cows that you are! Are you corpses, that you can't move?" 
Again they re-commence, "Home I bring the bri-i-ide," and 
again, with sorrowful faces, the chorus women sing, first one 



128 TOLSTOY ON ART 

and then another of them raising their hands. But two 
chorus-girls speak to each other, again a more vehement rap- 
ping with the stick. "Have you come here to talk? Can't 
you gossip at home? You there in red breeches, come nearer. 
Look at me! Begin again!" Again "Home I bring the 
bri-i-ide." And so it goes on for one, two, three hours. The 
whole of such a rehearsal lasts six hours on end. Raps with 
the stick, repetitions, placings, corrections of the singers, of 
the orchestra, of the procession, of the dancers, all seasoned 
with angry scolding. I heard the words, "asses," "fools," 
"idiots," "swine," addressed to the musicians and singers at 
least forty times in the course of one hour. And the unhappy 
individual to whom the abuse is addressed flautist, horn- 
blower, or singer, physically and mentally demoralised, does 
not reply and does what is demanded of him. Twenty times 
is repeated the one phrase, "Home I bring the bri-i-ide," 
and twenty times the striding about in yellow shoes with a 
halberd over the shoulder. The conductor knows that these 
people are so demoralised that they are no longer fit for any- 
thing but to blow trumpets and walk about with halberds and 
in yellow shoes, and that they are also accustomed to dainty 
easy living, so that they will put up with anything rather than 
lose their luxurious life. He therefore gives free vent to his 
churlishness, especially as he has seen the same thing done in 
Paris and Vienna, and knows that this is the way the best 
conductors behave, and that it is a musical tradition of great 
artists to be so carried away by the great business of their art 
that they cannot pause to consider the feelings of other artists. 
It would be difficult to find a more repulsive sight. I 
have seen one workman abuse another for not supporting the 
weight piled upon him when goods were being unloaded, or, 
at hay-stacking, the village Elder scold a peasant for not mak- 
ing the rick right, and the man submitted in silence. And 
however unpleasant it was to witness the scene, the unpleasant- 



WHAT IS ART? 129 

ness was lessened by the consciousness that the business in 
hand was necessary and important and that the fault for 
which the Elder scolded the labourer was one which might 
spoil a needful undertaking. 

But what was being done here ? For what, and for whom ? 
Very likely the conductor was tired out, like the workman I 
passed in the vaults ; it was even evident that he was ; but who 
made him tire himself? And why was he tiring himself? 
The opera he was rehearsing was one of the most ordinary of 
operas for people who are accustomed to them, but also one of 
the most gigantic absurdities that could possibly be devised. 
An Indian king wants to marry; they bring him a bride; he 
disguises himself as a minstrel; the bride falls in love with 
the minstrel and is in despair, but afterwards discovers that 
the minstrel is the king, and everyone is highly delighted. 

That there never were, or could be, such Indians, and that 
they were not only unlike Indians, but that what they were 
doing was unlike anything on earth except other operas, was 
beyond all manner of doubt; that people do not converse in 
such a way as recitative, and do not place themselves at fixed 
distances, in a quartet, waving their arms to express their 
emotions; that nowhere, except in theatres, do people walk 
about in such a manner, in pairs, with tinfoil halberds and in 
slippers; that no one ever gets angry in such a way, or is 
affected in such a way, or laughs in such a way, or cries in 
such a way; and that no one on earth can be moved by such 
performances, all this is beyond the possibility of doubt. 

Instinctively the question presents itself : For whom is this 
being done? Whom can it please ? If there are occasionally 
good melodies in the opera to which it is pleasant to listen, 
they could have been sung simply, without these stupid cos- 
tumes and all the processions and recitatives and hand- 
wavings. 

The ballet, in which half-naked women make voluptuous 



130 TOLSTOY ON ART 

movements, twisting themselves into various sensual wreath- 
ings, is simply a lewd performance. 

So one is quite at a loss as to whom these things are done 
for. The man of culture is heartily sick of them, while to 
a real working man they are utterly incomprehensible. If 
anyone can be pleased by these things (which is doubtful), 
it can only be some young footman or depraved artisan, who 
has contracted the spirit of the upper classes but is not yet 
satiated with their amusements and wishes to show his 
breeding. 

And all this nasty folly is prepared, not simply, nor with 
kindly merriment, but with anger and brutal cruelty. 

It is said that it is all done for the sake of art, and that 
art is a very important thing. But is it true that art is so 
\ important that such sacrifices should be made for its sake? 
This question is especially urgent, because art, for the sake 
of which the labour of millions, the lives of men and, above 
all, love between man and man, are all being sacrificed, this 
very art is becoming something more and more vague and 
uncertain to human perception. 

Criticism, in which the lovers of art used to find support 
for their opinions, has latterly become so self-contradictory 
that if we exclude from the domain of art all to which the 
critics of various schools themselves deny the title, there is 
scarcely any art left. 

The artists of various sects, like the theologians of various 
sects, mutually exclude and destroy one another. Listen to 
the artists of the schools of our times, and in all branches you 
will find each set of artists disowning others. In poetry the 
old romanticists deny the parnassians and the decadents; the 
parnassians disown the romanticists and the decadents; the 
decadents disown all their predecessors and the symbolists; the 
symbolists disown all their predecessors and les mages; and 
les mages disown all, all their predecessors. Among novelists 



WHAT IS ART? 131 

we have naturalists, psychologists, and "nature-ists," all re- 
jecting each other. And it is the same in dramatic art, in 
painting, and in music. So that art, which demands such 
tremendous labour-sacrifices from the people, which stunts 
human lives and transgresses against human love, is not only 
not a thing clearly and firmly defined, but is understood in 
such contradictory ways by its own devotees that it is difficult 
to say what is meant by art, and especially what is good, use- 
ful art, art for the sake of which we might condone such 
sacrifices as are being offered at its shrine. 



CHAPTER II 

Does art compensate for so much evil? What is art? Confusion of opinions. 
Is it "that which produces beauty"? The word "beauty" in Russian. Chaos in 
esthetics. 

For the production of every ballet, circus, opera, operetta, 
exhibition, picture, concert, or printed book, the intense and 
unwilling labour of thousands and thousands of people is 
needed at what is often harmful and humiliating work. It 
were well if artists made all they require for themselves, but 
as it is they all need the help of workmen, not only to produce 
art, but also for their own usually luxurious maintenance. 
And one way or other they get it, either through payments 
from rich people, or through subsidies given by Government 
(in Russia, for instance, in grants of millions of roubles to 
theatres, conservatoires and academies). This money is col- 
lected from the people, some of whom have to sell their only 
cow to pay the tax, and who never get those esthetic pleasures 
which art gives. 

It was all very well for a Greek or Roman artist, or even 
for a Russian artist of the first half of the nineteenth century 
(when there still were slaves and it was considered right that 
there should be), with a quiet mind to make people serve him 
and his art ; but in our day, when in all men there is at least 
some dim perception of the equal rights of all, it is impossible 
to constrain people to labour unwillingly for art, without first 
deciding the question whether it is true that art is so good and 
so important an affair as to redeem this evil. 

If not, we have the terrible probability to consider, that 
while fearful sacrifices of the labour and lives of men and 

132 



WHAT IS ART? 133 

of morality itself are being made to art, that same art may 
be not only useless but even harmful. 

And therefore it is necessary for a society in which works 
of art arise and are supported, to find out whether all that 
professes to be art is really art; whether (as is presupposed 
in our society) all that is art is good, and whether it is im- 
portant, and worth those sacrifices which it necessitates. It 
is still more necessary for every conscientious artist to know 
this, in order that he may be sure that all he does has a valid 
meaning, that it is not merely an infatuation of the small 
circle of people among whom he lives which excites in him the 
false assurance that he is doing a good work and that what 
he takes from others for the support of his often very luxurious 
life will be compensated for by those productions at which he 
works. And that is why answers to the above questions are 
especially important in our time. 

What is this art, which is considered so important and 
necessary for humanity that for its sake these sacrifices of 
labour, of human life, and even of goodness, may be made? 

"What is art? What a question! Art is architecture, 
sculpture, painting, music, and poetry in all its forms," usu- 
ally replies the ordinary man, the art amateur, or even the 
artist himself, imagining the matter about which he is talking 
to be perfectly clear, and uniformly understood by everybody. 
But in architecture, one inquires further, are there not simple 
buildings which are not objects of art, and buildings with 
artistic pretensions which are unsuccessful and ugly and 
therefore not to be considered as works of art? wherein lies 
the characteristic sign of a work of art? 

It is the same in sculpture, in music, and in poetry. Art, 
in all its forms, is bounded on one side by the practically 
useful and on the other by unsuccessful attempts at art. 
How is art to be marked off from each of these? The ordi- 
nary educated man of our circle, and even the artist who 



134 TOLSTOY ON ART 

has not occupied himself specially with esthetics, will not 
hesitate at this question either. He thinks the solution has 
been found long ago, and is well known to everyone. 

"Art is such activity as produces beauty," says such a man. 

If art consists in that, then is a ballet or an operetta art? 
you inquire. 

"Yes," says the ordinary man, though with some hesitation, 
"a good ballet or a graceful operetta is also art, in so far as 
it manifests beauty." 

But without even asking the ordinary man what differen- 
tiates the "good" ballet and the "graceful" operetta from their 
opposites (a question he would have much difficulty in an- 
swering), if you ask him whether the activity of costumers 
and hairdressers, who ornament the figures and faces of the 
women for the ballet and the operetta, is art; or the activity 
of Worth, the dressmaker; of scent-makers and men-cooks, 
then he will in most cases deny that their activity belongs to 
the domain of art. But in this the ordinary man makes a 
mistake, just because he is an ordinary man and not a spe- 
cialist, and because he has not occupied hirrfself with esthetic 
questions. Had he looked into these matters, he would have 
seen in the great Renan's book, Marc Aurele, a dissertation 
showing that the dressmaker's work is art, and that those who 
do not see in the adornment of woman an affair of the highest 
art are very small-minded and dull. "C'est le grand art," 
says Renan. Moreover, he would have known that in many 
esthetic systems for instance, in the esthetics of the learned 
Professor Kralik, Weltschonheit, Versuch einer allgemeinen 
JEsthetik, von Richard Kralik, and in Les problemes de 
VEsthetique Contemporaine, by Guyau the arts of costume, 
of taste, and of touch are included. 

"Es Folgt nun ein Funfblatt von Kunsten, die der subjec- 
tiven Sinnlichkeit entkeimen" (There results then a penta- 
foliate of arts, growing out of the subjective perceptions), says 



WHAT IS ART? 135 

Kralik (p. 175). "Sie sind die dsthetische Behandlung der 
fiinf Sinne." (They are the esthetic treatment of the five 
senses.) 

These five arts are the following: 

Die Kunst des Geschmacksinns The art of the sense 
of taste (p. 175). 

Die Kunst des Geruchsinns The art of the sense of smell 
(p. 177). 

Die Kunst des Tastsinns The art of the sense of touch 
(p. 180). 

Die Kunst des Gehbrsinns The art of the sense of hear- 
ing (p. 182). 

Die Kunst des Gesichtsinns The art of the sense of sight 
(p. 184). 

Of the first of these die Kunst des Geschmacksinns he 
says: Man halt zwar gewohnlich nur zwei oder hochstens 
drei Sinne fur wiirdig den Stoff kiinstlerischer Behandlung 
abzugeben, aber ich glaube nur mit bedingtem Recht. Ich 
will kein allzugroses Gewicht darauf legen, dass der gemeine 
Sprachgebrauch manch andere Kiinste, wie zum Beispiel die 
Kochkunst kennt. 1 

And further: Und es ist doch gewiss eine dsthetische 
Leistung, wenn es der Kochkunst gelingt aus einem thierischen 
Kadaver einen Gegenstand des Geschmacks in jedem Sinne zu 
machen. Der Grundsatz der Kunst des Geschmacksinns (die 
wetter ist als die sogenannte Kochkunst) ist also dieser: Es 
soil alles Geniessbare als Sinnbild einer Idee behandelt wer- 
den und in jedesmaligem Einklang zur auszudruckendem (A**-) 
Idee. 2 ' dU 

1 Only two, or at most three, senses are generally held worthy to supply matter 
for artistic treatment, but I think this opinion is only conditionally correct. I will 
not lay too much stress on the fact that our common speech recognises many other 
arts, as, for instance, the art of cookery. 

2 And yet it is certainly an esthetic achievement when the art of cooking suc- 
ceeds in making of an animal's corpse an object in all respects tasteful. The 



136 TOLSTOY ON ART 

This author, like Renan, acknowledges a Kostiimkunst 
(Art of Costume) (p. 200), etc. 

Such is also the opinion of the French writer, Guyau, who 
is highly esteemed by some authors of our day. In his book, 
Les Problemes de V esthetique contemporaine, he speaks seri- 
ously of touch, taste, and smell as giving, or being capable 
of giving, esthetic impressions: Si la couleur manque au 
toucher, il nous fournit en revanche une notion que Vozil seul 
ne peut nous donner, et qui a une valeur esthetique con- 
siderable, celle du doux, du soyeux, du poli. Ce qui carac- 
terise la beaute du velour c'est sa douceur au toucher non 
moins que son brillant. Dans Videe que nous nous faisons de 
la beaute d'une fetnme, le veloute de sa peau entre comme 
element essentiel. 

Chacun de nous probablement avec un peu d 'attention se 
rappellera des jouissances du gout, qui ont ete de veritables 
jouissances esthetiques. 1 And he recounts how a glass of 
milk drunk by him in the mountains gave him esthetic 
enjoyment. 

So it turns out that the conception of art as consisting in 
making beauty manifest is not at all so simple as it seemed, 
especially now, when in this conception of beauty are included 
our sensations of touch and taste and smell, as they are by the 
latest esthetic writers. 

But the ordinary man either does not know, or does not 
wish to know, all this, and is firmly convinced that all ques- 

principle of the Art of Taste (which goes beyond the so-called Art of Cookery) 
is therefore this : All that is eatable should be treated as the symbol of some Idea, 
and always in harmony with the Idea to be expressed. 

1 If the sense of touch lacks colour, it gives us, on the other hand, a notion 
which the eye alone cannot afford, and one of considerable esthetic value, namely, 
that of softness, silkiness, polish. The beauty of velvet is characterised not less 
by its softness to the touch than by its lustre. In the idea we form of a woman's 
beauty, the softness of her skin enters as an essential element. 

Each of us probably, with a little attention, can recall pleasures of taste which 
have been real esthetic pleasures. 



WHAT IS ART? 137 

tions about art may be simply and clearly solved by acknowl- 
edging beauty to be the content of art. To him it seems clear 
and comprehensible that art consists in manifesting beauty, 
and that a reference to beauty will serve to explain all ques- 
tions about art. 

But what is this beauty which forms the content of art? 
How is it denned? What is it? 

As is always the case, the more cloudy and confused the 
conception conveyed by a word, with the more aplomb and 
self-assurance do people use that word, pretending that what 
is understood by it is so simple and clear that it is not worth 
while even to discuss what it actually means. 

This is how matters of orthodox religion are usually dealt 
with, and this is how people now deal with the conception of 
beauty. It is taken for granted that what is meant by the 
word beauty is known and understood by everyone. And yet 
not only is this not known, but after whole mountains of books 
have been written on the subject by the most learned and pro- 
found thinkers during one hundred and fifty years (ever 
since Baumgarten founded esthetics in the year 1750), the 
question, What is beauty? remains to this day quite unsolved, 
and in each new work on esthetics it is answered in a new 
way. One of the last books I read on esthetics is a not ill- 
written booklet by Julius Mithalter, called Rats el des Schonen 
(The Enigma of the Beautiful). And that title precisely ex- 
presses the position of the question, What is beauty? After 
thousands of learned men have discussed it during one hun- 
dred and fifty years, the meaning of the word beauty remains 
an enigma still. The Germans answer the question in their 
manner, though in a hundred different ways; the physiologi- 
cal estheticians, especially the Englishmen: Herbert Spencer, 
Grant Allen, and his school, answer it each in his own way; 
the French eclectics, and the followers of Guyau and Taine, 
also each in his own way; and all these people know all the 



138 TOLSTOY ON ART 

preceding solutions given by Baumgarten, and Kant, and 
Schelling, and Schiller, and Fichte, and Winckelmann, and 
Lessing, and Hegel, and Schopenhauer, and Hartmann, and 
Schasler, and Cousin, and Leveque and others. 

What is this strange conception of "beauty," which seems so 
simple to those who talk without thinking, but in denning 
which all the philosophers of various tendencies and different 
nationalities can come to no agreement during a century and 
a half? What is this conception of beauty, on which the 
dominant doctrine of art rests ? 

In Russian, by the word krasota (beauty) we mean only 
that which pleases the sight. And though latterly people have 
begun to speak of "an ugly deed," or of "beautiful music," 
it is not good Russian. 

A Russian of the common folk, not knowing foreign lan- 
guages, will not understand you if you tell him that a man 
who has given his last coat to another, or done anything 
similar, has acted "beautifully," that a man who has cheated 
another has done an "ugly" action, or that a song is 
"beautiful." 

In Russian a deed may be kind and good, or unkind and 
bad. Music may be pleasant and good, or unpleasant and 
bad; but there can be no such thing as "beautiful" or "ugly" 
music. 

Beautiful may relate to a man, a horse, a house, a view, or 
a movement. Of actions thoughts character or music, if 
they please us, we may say that they are good, or, if they do 
not please us, that they are bad. But beautiful can be used 
only concerning that which pleases the sight. So that the 
word and conception "good" includes the conception of 
"beautiful"; but the reverse is not true; the conception 
"beauty" does not include the conception "good." If we say 
"good" of an article which we value for its appearance, we 



WHAT IS ART? 139 

thereby say that the article is beautiful; but if we say it is 
"beautiful,'" it does not at all mean that the article is a good 
one. 

Such is the meaning ascribed by the Russian language, and 
therefore by the sense of the people, to the words and concep- 
tions "good" and "beautiful." 

In all the European languages, that is, in the languages of 
those nations among whom the doctrine has spread that beauty 
is the essential thing in art, the words "beau" "schon" 
"beautiful," "hello" etc., while keeping their meaning of 
beautiful in form, have come also to express "goodness," 
"kindness," that is to say, have come to act as substitutes for 
the word "good." 

So that it has become quite natural in those languages to 
use such expressions as "belle ame," "schone Gedanken" or 
"beautiful deed." Those languages no longer have a suitable 
word wherewith expressly to indicate beauty of form, and 
have to use a combination of words such as "beau par la 
forme" "beautiful to look at" and so forth, to convey that 
idea. 

Observation of the divergent meanings which the words 
"beauty" and "beautiful" have in Russian on the one hand, 
and in those European languages now permeated by this es- 
thetic theory on the other hand, shows us that the word 
"beauty" has among the latter acquired a special meaning, 
namely, that of "good." 

What is remarkable, moreover, is that since we Russians 
have begun more and more to adopt the European view of 
art, the same evolution has begun to show itself in our lan- 
guage also, and some people speak and write quite confidently, 
and without causing surprise, of beautiful music and ugly 
actions, and even of beautiful or ugly thoughts; whereas 
forty years ago, when I was young, the expressions "beautiful 



140 TOLSTOY ON ART 

music" and "ugly actions" were not only unusual but incom- 
prehensible. Evidently this new meaning given to beauty by 
European thought begins to be assimilated by Russian society. 

And what really is this meaning? What is this "beauty" 
as understood by the European peoples? 

In order to answer this question, I must here quote at least 
a small selection of those definitions of beauty most generally 
adopted in existing esthetic systems. I particularly beg the 
reader not to be overcome by dulness, but to read these ex- 
tracts through, or still better to read some one of the erudite 
esthetic authors. Not to mention the voluminous German 
estheticians, a very good book for this purpose would be 
either the German book by Kralik, the English work by 
Knight, or the French one by Leveque. It is necessary to 
read at least one of the learned esthetic writers in order to 
form at first-hand a conception of the variety of opinion and 
the frightful obscurity which reigns in this region of specula- 
tion; not in this important matter trusting to another's 
report. 

This for instance is what the German esthetician Schasler 
says in the preface to his famous, voluminous, and detailed 
work on esthetics : 

"In hardly any sphere of philosophic science can we find 
such divergent methods of investigation and exposition, 
amounting even to self-contradiction, as in the sphere of es- 
thetics. On the one hand we have elegant phraseology with- 
out any substance, characterised in great part by most one- 
sided superficiality ; 'and on the other hand, accompanying 
undeniable profundity of investigation and richness of 
subject-matter, we get a revolting awkwardness of philosophic 
terminology clothing the simplest thoughts in an apparel of 
abstract science as though to render them worthy to enter the 
consecrated palace of the system ; v and finally, between these 



I 



WHAT IS ART? 141 

two methods of investigation and exposition, there is a third, 
forming as it were the transition from one to the other, an 
eclectic method, now flaunting an elegant phraseology and 
now a pedantic erudition. ... A style of exposition that falls 
into none of these three defects but is truly concrete, and hav- 
ing important matter expresses it in clear and popular phil- 
osophic language, can nowhere be found less frequently than 
in the domain of esthetics." ' 

It is only necessary, as an example, to read Schasler's own 
book to convince oneself of the justice of this observation 
of his. 

On the same subject the French writer, Veron, in the pref- 
ace to his very good work on esthetics, says, "II n'y a pas de 
science, qui ait ete plus que Vesthetique livree aux reveries 
des metaphysiciens. Depuis Plat on jus qu' aux doctrines of- 
ficielles de nos jours, on a fait de Vart je ne sais quel amal- 
game de fantaisies quint es sendees, et de mysteres transcend- 
antaux qui trouvent leur expression supreme dans la concep- 
tion absolue du Beau ideal, prototype immuable et divin des 
choses reelles" (L'esthetique, 1878, p. 5). 2 

If the reader will only be at the pains to peruse the follow- 
ing extracts defining beauty, taken from the chief writers on 
esthetics, he may convince himself that this censure is thor- 
oughly deserved. 

I shall not quote the definitions of beauty attributed to the 
ancients, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others, down to 
Plotinus, because, in reality, the ancients had not that con- 
ception of beauty separated from goodness which forms the 

1 M. Schasler, Kritische Geschichte der Aesthetik, 1872, Vol. I, p. 13. 

2 There is no science which more entirely than esthetics has been handed over 
to the dreams of the metaphysicians. From Plato down to the received doctrines 
of our day, people have made of art a strange amalgam of quintessential fancies 
and transcendental mysteries, which find their supreme expression in the con- 
ception of an absolute ideal Beauty, immutable and divine prototype of actual 
things. 



142 TOLSTOY ON ART 

basis and aim of esthetics in our time. By referring the judg- 
ments of the ancients on beauty to our conception of it, as is 
usually done in esthetics, we give the words of the ancients a 
meaning which is not theirs. 1 

1 See on this matter Bernard's admirable book, L'esthetique d'Aristote, also 
Walter's Geschichte der Aesthetik im Altertum. 



CHAPTER III 

Summary of various esthetic theories and definitions, from Baumgarten to the 
present day. 

I begin with the founder of esthetics, Baumgarten (1714 
1762). 

According to Baumgarten, 1 the object of logical knowledge 
is Truth, the object of esthetic (i. e., sensuous) knowledge is 
Beauty. Beauty is the Perfect (the Absolute), recognised 
through the senses; Truth is the Perfect perceived through 
reason; Goodness is the Perfect reached by moral will. 

Beauty is denned by Baumgarten as a correspondence, that 
is, an order of the parts in their mutual relations to each other 
and in their relation to the whole. The aim of beauty itself is 
to please and excite a desire," Wohlfge fallen und Erregung 
eines Verlangens." (A position precisely the opposite to 
Kant's definition of the nature and sign of beauty.) 

With reference to the manifestations of beauty, Baumgarten 
considers that the highest embodiment of beauty is visible to 
us in nature, and he therefore thinks that the highest aim of 
art is to copy nature. (This position also is directly contra- 
dicted by the conclusions of the latest estheticians.) 

Passing over the unimportant followers of Baumgarten, 
Maier, Eschenburg, and Eberhard, who only slightly mod- 
ified the doctrine of their teacher by dividing the pleasant 
from the beautiful, I will quote the definitions given by writers 
who came immediately after Baumgarten and defined beauty 
in quite another way. These writers were Sulzer, Mendels- 
sohn, and Moritz. They, in contradiction to Baumgarten's 

iSchasler p. 361. 

143 



144 TOLSTOY ON ART 

main position, recognise as the aim of art not beauty, but 
goodness. Thus Sulzer (1720-1777) says, only that can 
be considered beautiful which contains goodness. According 
to his theory, the aim of the whole life of humanity is welfare 
in social life. This is attained by the education of the moral 
feelings, to which end art should be subservient. Beauty is 
that which evokes and educates this feeling. 

Beauty is understood almost in the same way by Mendels- 
sohn ( 1729-1 786) . According to him, art is the development 
of the beautiful, obscurely recognised by feeling, till it be- 
comes the true and good. The aim of art is moral perfection. 1 

For the estheticians of this school the ideal of beauty is a 
beautiful soul in a beautiful body. So that these estheticians 
completely wipe out Baumgarten's division of the Perfect (the 
Absolute), into the three forms of Truth, Goodness, and 
Beauty; and Beauty again merges into the Good and the True. 

But this conception is not only not maintained by the later 
estheticians, but the esthetic doctrine of Winckelmann arises, 
again in complete opposition. This divides the mission of 
art from the aim of goodness in the sharpest and most positive 
manner, makes external beauty the aim of art, and even limits 
it to visible beauty. 

According to the celebrated work of Winckelmann (1717- 
1767), the law and aim of all art is beauty only, beauty 
quite separated from and independent of goodness. There 
are three kinds of beauty: (1) beauty of form, (2) beauty 
of idea, expressing itself in the position of the figure (in 
plastic art), (3) beauty of expression, attainable only when 
the two first conditions are present. This beauty of expres- 
sion is the highest aim of art, and is attained in antique art; 
modern art should therefore aim at imitating ancient art. 2 

Art is similarly understood by Lessing, Herder, and after- 

iSchasler, p. 369. 
2 Schasler, pp. 388-390. 




WHAT IS ART? 145 

wards by Goethe and by all the distinguished estheticians of 
Germany till Kant, from whose day, again, a different con- 
ception of art commences. 

Native esthetic theories arose during this period in Eng- 
land, France, Italy, and Holland, and they, though not taken 
from the German, were equally cloudy and contradictory. 
And all these writers, just like the German estheticians, 
founded their theories on a conception of the Beautiful; un- 
derstanding beauty in the sense of a something existing abso- 
lutely and more or less intermingled with Goodness, or hav- 
ing one and the same root. In England almost simultane- 
ously with Baumgarten, even a little earlier, Shaftesbury, 
Hutcheson, Home, Burke, Hogarth, and others, wrote on art. 

According to Shaftesbury (1670-1713), "That which is 
beautiful is harmonious and proportionable, what is harmoni- 
ous and proportionable is true, and what is at once both beauti- 
ful and true is of consequence agreeable and good." * 
Beauty, he taught, is recognised by the mind only. God is 
fundamental beauty; beauty and goodness proceed from the 
same fount. 

So that, although Shaftesbury regards beauty as being 
something separate from goodness, they again merge into 
something inseparable. 

According to Hutcheson (1694-1747 Inquiry into the 
Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue), the aim of art 
is beauty, the essence of which consists in evoking in us the 
perception of uniformity and variety. In the recognition of 
what is art we are guided by "an internal sense." This in- 
ternal sense may be in contradiction to the ethical one. So 
that according to Hutcheson beauty does not always cor- 
respond with goodness, but separates from it and is sometimes 
contrary to it. 2 

1 Knight, Philosophy of the Beautiful, Vol. I, pp. 165, 166. 
2 Schasler, p. 289. Knight, pp. 168, 169, 



146 TOLSTOY ON ART 

According to Home, Lord Kames, (1696-1782), beauty is 
that which is pleasant. Therefore beauty is denned by taste 
alone. The standard of true taste is that the maximum of 
richness, fulness, strength, and variety of impression, should 
be contained within the narrowest limits. That is the ideal 
of a perfect work of art. 

According to Burke (1729-1797 Philosophical Inquiry 
into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful) , 
the sublime and beautiful, which are the aim of art, have their 
origin in the promptings of self-preservation and of society. 
These feelings, examined at their source, are means for the 
maintenance of the race through the individual. The first 
(self-preservation) is attained by nourishment, defence, and 
war; the second (society) by intercourse and propagation. 
Therefore self-defence and war, which is bound up with it, 
is the source of the sublime; sociability and the sex-instinct, 
which is bound up with it, is the source of beauty. 1 

Such were the chief English definitions of art and beauty 
in the eighteenth century. 

During the same period, the writers on art in France, were 
Pere Andre and Batteux, with Diderot, D'Alembert, and to 
some extent Voltaire, following later. 

According to Pere Andre (Essai sur le Beau, 1741), there 
are three kinds of beauty divine beauty, natural beauty, 
and artificial beauty. 2 

According to Batteux (1713-1780), art consists in imi- 
tating the beauty of nature, its aim being enjoyment. 3 Such 
also is Diderot's definition of art. 

The French writers, like the English, hold that it is taste 
that decides what is beautiful. And the laws of taste are not 
only not laid down, but it is granted that they cannot be 

!R. Kralik, Wcltschonheit, Versuch einer allgemeinen Aesthetik, pp. 304-306. 
2 Knight, p. 101. 
s Schasler, p. 316. 




WHAT IS ART? 147 

settled. The same view was held by D'Alembert and 
Voltaire. 1 

According to Pagano, the Italian esthetician of that period, 
art consists in uniting the beauties dispersed in nature. 
The capacity to perceive these beauties is taste, the capacity 
to bring them into one whole is artistic genius. Beauty 
commingles with goodness, so that beauty is goodness made 
visible, and goodness is inner beauty. 2 

According to the opinion of other Italians: Muratori 
(1672-1750), Riflessioni sopra il buon gusto intorno 
le science e le arti, and especially Spaletti, 3 Saggio 
sopra la bellezza (1765), art amounts to an egotistical 
sensation, founded (as with Burke) on the desire for self- 
preservation and society. 

Among Dutch writers, Hemsterhuis (1720-1790), who 
had an influence on the German estheticians and on Goethe, 
is remarkable. According to him, beauty is that which gives 
most pleasure, and that gives most pleasure which gives us 
the greatest number of perceptions in the shortest time. En- 
joyment of the beautiful, because it gives the greatest quantity 
of perceptions in the shortest time, is the highest cognition to 
which man can attain. 4 

Such were the esthetic theories outside Germany during the 
last century. In Germany, after Wincklemann, there again 
arose a completely new esthetic theory, that of Kant (1724- 
1804), which more than all others clears up what this con- 
ception of beauty, and consequently of art, really amounts to. 

The esthetic teaching of Kant is founded as follows: 
Man has a knowledge of nature outside him and of himself 
in nature. In nature outside himself he seeks for truth; 
in himself he seeks for goodness. The first is an affair of 
pure reason, the other of practical reason (free-will). 

i Knight, pp. 102-104. 3 Schasler, p. 328. 

2 R. Kralik, p. 124, * Schasler, pp. 331-333. 



148 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Besides these two means of perception, there is also the 
judging capacity (Urteilskraft), which forms judgments with- 
out reasoning and produces pleasure without desire (Urtheil 
ohne Be griff und Vergnugen ohne Begehren). This capacity 
is the basis of esthetic feeling. Beauty, according to Kant, 
in its subjective meaning is that which in general and nec- 
essarily, without reasoning and without practical advantage, 
pleases; and in its objective meaning it is the form of an 
object suitable for its purpose in so far as that object is per- 
ceived without any conception of its utility. 1 

Beauty is denned in the same way by the followers of Kant, 
among whom was Schiller (1759-1805). According to 
Schiller, who wrote much on esthetics, the aim of art is, as 
with Kant, beauty, the source of which is pleasure without 
practical advantage. So that art may be called a game, not 
in the sense of an unimportant occupation, but in the sense 
of a manifestation of the beauties of life itself without other 
aim than that of beauty. 2 

Besides Schiller, the most remarkable of Kant's followers 
in the sphere of esthetics was Wilhelm Humboldt, who, 
though he added nothing to the definition of beauty, explained 
various forms of it, the drama, music, humour, etc. 3 

After Kant, besides the second-rate philosophers, the 
writers on esthetics were Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and their 
followers. 

Fichte (1762-1814) says that perception of the beautiful 
proceeds from this : the world that is, nature has two sides : 
it is the sum of our limitations, and it is the sum of our free 
idealistic activity. In the first aspect the world is limited, 
in the second aspect it is free. In the first aspect every object 
is limited, distorted, compressed, confined and we see de- 
formity; in the second we perceive its inner completeness, 

1 Schasler, pp. 525-528. s Schasler, pp. 740-743. 

2 Knight, pp. 61-63, 



WHAT IS ART? 149 

vitality, regeneration and we see beauty. So that the de- 
formity or beauty of an object, according to Fichte, depends 
on the point of view of the observer. Beauty therefore exists, 
not in the world but in the beautiful soul (schoner Geist). 
Art is the manifestation of this beautiful soul, and its aim is 
the education, not of the mind only that is the business of 
the savant; not of the heart only that is the affair of the 
moral preacher; but of the whole man. And so the charac- 
teristic of beauty lies not in anything external, but in the 
presence of a beautiful soul in the artist. 1 

Following Fichte, and in the same direction, Friedrich 
Schlegel and Adam Muller also denned beauty. According 
to Schlegel (1772-1829), beauty in art is understood too 
incompletely, one-sidedly, and disconnectedly. Beauty exists 
not only in art but also in nature and in love; so that the 
truly beautiful is expressed by the union of art, nature, and 
love. Therefore, as inseparably one with esthetic art, 
Schlegel acknowledges moral and philosophic art. 2 

According to Adam Muller (1779-1829), there are two 
kinds of beauty: the one, general beauty, which attracts 
people as the sun attracts the planet this is found chiefly in 
antique art and the other, individual beauty, which results 
from the observer himself becoming a sun attracting beauty, 
this is the beauty of modern art. A world in which all 
contradictions are harmonised is the highest beauty. Every 
work of art is a reproduction of this universal harmony. 3 
The highest art is the art of life. 4 

Next after Fichte and his followers came a contemporary 
of his, the philosopher Schelling (1775-1845), who has had 
a great influence on the esthetic conceptions of our times. 
According to Schelling's philosophy, art is the production 
or result of that conception of things by which the subject 

iSchasler, pp. 769-771. 3 Kralik, p. 148. 

2 Schasler, pp. 786, 787. 4 Kralik, p. 820. 



150 TOLSTOY ON ART 

becomes its own object, or the object its own subject. 
Beauty is the perception of the infinite in the finite. And 
the chief characteristic of works of art is unconscious infinity. 
Art is the uniting of the subjective with the objective, of 
nature with reason, of the unconscious with the conscious, 
and therefore art is the highest means of knowledge. 
Beauty is the contemplation of things in themselves as they 
exist in the prototype (in den Urbildern). It is not the 
artist who by his knowledge of skill produces the beautiful 
but the idea of beauty in him itself produces it. 1 

Of Schelling's followers the most noticeable was Solger 
(1780-1819 Vorlesungen iiber Aesthetik). According to 
him, the idea of beauty is the fundamental idea of everything. 
In the world we see only distortions of the fundamental 
idea, but art, by imagination, may lift itself to the height of 
this idea. Art is therefore akin to creation. 2 

According to another follower of Schelling, Krause 
(1781-1832), true, positive beauty is the manifestation of the 
Idea in an individual form; art is the actualization of the 
beauty existing in the sphere of man's free spirit. The 
highest stage of art is the art of life, which directs its activity 
towards the adornment of life so that it may be a beautiful 
abode for a beautiful man. 8 

After Schelling and his followers came the new esthetic 
doctrine of Hegel, which is held to this day, consciously by 
many but by the majority unconsciously. This teaching is 
not only no clearer or better defined than the preceding 
ones, but is if possible even more cloudy and mystical. 

According to Hegel (1770-1831), God manifests himself 
in nature and in art in the form of beauty. God expresses 
himself in two ways: in the object and in the subject in 
nature and in spirit. Beauty is the shining of the Idea 

iSchasler, pp. 828, 829, 834-841. Schasler, p. 917. 

2 Schasler, p. 891. 



WHAT IS ART? 151 

through matter. Only the soul and what pertains to it 
is truly beautiful, and therefore the beauty of nature is 
only the reflection of the natural beauty of the spirit the 
beautiful has only a spiritual content. But the spiritual 
must appear in sensuous form. The sensuous manifestation 
of spirit is only appearance (schein), and this appearance 
is the only reality of the beautiful. Art is thus the production 
of this appearance of the Idea, and is a means, together with 
religion and philosophy, of bringing to consciousness, and 
of expressing, the deepest problems of humanity and the 
highest truths of the spirit. 

Truth and beauty according to Hegel are one and the 
same thing; the difference being only that truth is the Idea 
itself as it exists in itself and is thinkable. The Idea, mani- 
TesTed externally, becomes to the apprehension not only true 
but beautiful. The beautiful is the manifestation of the 
Idea. 1 

Following Hegel came his many adherents : Weisse, Arnold 
Ruge, Rosenkrantz, Theodor Vischer and others. 

According to Weisse (1801-1867), art is the introduction 
(Einbildung) of the absolute spiritual reality of beauty into 
external, dead, indifferent matter, the perception of which 
latter apart from the beauty brought into it presents the ne- 
gation of all existence in itself (Negation alles Fiirsichseins) . 

In the idea of truth, Weisse explains, lies a contradiction 
between the subjective and the objective sides of knowledge, 
in that an individual ego discerns the Universal. This 
contradiction can be removed by a conception that should 
unite into one the universal and the individual, which fall 
asunder in our conceptions of truth. Such a conception 
would be reconciled (aufgehoben) truth. Beauty is such a 
reconciled truth. 2 

According to Ruge (1802-1880), a strict follower of 

1 Schasler, pp. 946, 1085, 984, 985, 990. 2 Schasler, pp. 966, 655, 956. 



152 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Hegel, beauty is the Idea expressing itself. The spirit, 
contemplating itself, either finds itself expressed completely, 
and then that full expression of itself is beauty; or incom- 
pletely, and then it feels the need to alter this imperfect ex- 
pression of itself, and becomes creative art. 1 

According to Vischer (1807-1887), beauty is the Idea in 
the form of a finite phenomenon. The Idea itself is not 
indivisible, but forms a system of ideas which may be repre- 
sented by ascending and descending lines. The higher 
the idea the more beauty it contains; but even the lowest 
contains beauty, because it forms an essential link of the 
system. The highest form of the Idea is personality, and 
therefore the highest art is that which has for its subject- 
matter the highest personality. 2 

Such were the theories of the German estheticians in the 
Hegelian direction, but they did not monopolise esthetic dis- 
sertations. In Germany, side by side and simultaneously 
with the Hegelian theories, there appeared theories of beauty 
not only independent of Hegel's position (that beauty is 
the manifestation of the Idea), but directly contrary to this 
view, denying and ridiculing it. Such was the line taken 
by Herbart and more particularly by Schopenhauer. 

According to Herbart (1776-1841), there is not and can- 
not be any such thing as beauty existing in itself. What 
does exist is only our opinion, and it is necessary to find 
the base of this opinion (Asthetisches Element arurtheil) . 
Such bases are connected with our impressions. There are 
certain relations which we term beautiful; and art consists 
in finding these relations, which are simultaneous in painting, 
the plastic art, and architecture; successive and simultaneous 
in music; and purely successive in poetry. In contradiction 
to the former estheticians, Herbart holds that objects are 
often beautiful which express nothing at all, as, for instance, 

iSchasler, p. 1017. 2 Schasler, pp. 1065, 1066. 



WHAT IS ART? 153 

the rainbow, which is beautiful for its lines and colours, and 
not for its mythological connection with Iris or Noah's 
rainbow. 1 

Another opponent of Hegel was Schopenhauer, who denied 
Hegel's whole system, his esthetics included. 

According to Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Will objectiv- 
izes itself in the world on various planes; and although the 
higher the plane on which it is objectivized the more beau- 
tiful it is, yet each plane has its own beauty. Renunciation 
of one's individuality and contemplation of one of these 
planes of manifestation of Will gives us a perception of 
beauty. All men, says Schopenhauer, possess the capacity 
to objectivize the Idea on different planes. The genius of 
the artist has this capacity in a higher degree, and therefore 
makes a higher beauty manifest. 2 

After these more eminent writers there followed, in 
Germany, less original and less influential ones, such as 
Hartmann, Kirchmann, Schnaase, and, to some extent, Helm- 
holtz (as an esthetician), Bergmann, Jungmann, and an 
innumerable host of others. 

According to Hartmann (1842), beauty lies, not in the 
external world, nor in "the thing in itself," neither does it 
reside in the soul of man, but it lies in the "seeming" (Schein) 
produced by the artist. The thing in itself is not beautiful, 
but it is transformed into beauty by the artist. 3 

According to Schnaase (1798-1875), there is no perfect 
beauty in the world. In nature there is only an approach 
towards it. Art gives what nature cannot give. In the 
energy of the free ego, conscious of harmony not found in 
nature, beauty is disclosed. 4 

Kirchmann (1802-1884) wrote on experimental esthetics. 
All aspects of history in his system are joined by pure chance. 

iSchasler, pp. 1097-1100. 3 Knight, pp. 81, 82. 

2Schasler, pp. 1124, 1107. * Knight, p. 83. 



154 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Thus according to him there are six realms of history: 
the realm of Knowledge, of Wealth, of Morality, of Faith, 
of Politics, and of Beauty; and activity in the last-named 
realm is art. 1 

According to Helmholtz (1821-1894), who wrote on 
beauty as it relates to music, beauty in musical productions is 
attained only by following unalterable laws. These laws are 
not known to the artist; so that beauty is manifested by the 
artist unconsciously, and cannot be subjected to analysis. 2 

According to Bergmann (b. 1840) (Ueber das Schone, 
1887), to define beauty objectively is impossible. Beauty is 
only perceived subjectively, and therefore the problem of 
esthetics is to define what pleases whom. 3 

According to Jungmann (d. 1885), firstly, beauty is a 
suprasensible quality of things; secondly, beauty produces 
in us pleasure by merely being contemplated; and thirdly, 
beauty is the foundation of love. 4 

The esthetic theories of the chief representatives of France, 
England, and other nations, in recent times have been the 
following: 

In France during this period the prominent writers on 
esthetics were Cousin, Jouffroy, Pictet, Ravaisson, Leveque. 

Cousin (1792-1867) was an eclectic and a follower of the 
German idealists. According to his theory, beauty always 
has a moral foundation. He disputes the doctrine that art 
is imitation and that the beautiful is what pleases. He af- 
firms that beauty may be defined objectively and that it es- 
sentially consists in variety in unity. 5 

After Cousin came Jouffroy (1796-1842), who was a pupil 
of Cousin's and also a follower of the German estheticians. 
According to his definition, beauty is the expression of the 

iSchasler, p. 1121. * Knight, p. 88. 

2 Knight, pp. 85, 86. 5 Knight, p. 112. 

3 Knight, p. 88. 






WHAT IS ART? 155 

invisible by those natural signs which manifest it. The 
visible world is the garment by means of which we see beauty. 1 

The Swiss writer Pictet repeated Hegel and Plato, 
supposing beauty to exist in the direct and free manifesta- 
tion of the divine Idea revealing itself in sense forms. 2 

Leveque was a follower of Schelling and Hegel. He holds 
that beauty is something invisible behind nature a force 
or spirit revealing itself in ordered energy. 3 

Similar vague opinions about the nature of beauty were 
expressed by the French metaphysician Ravaisson, who 
considered beauty to be the ultimate aim and purpose of the 
world. "La beaute la plus divine et principalement la plus 
parfaite contient le secret du monde." 4 And again: "Le 
monde entier est Vceuvre d'une beaute absolue, qui n'est la 
cause des choses que par V amour qu'elle met en elles." 5 

I purposely quote these metaphysical expressions in the 
original, because, however cloudy the Germans may be, the 
French, once they absorb the theories of the Germans and 
take to imitating them, far surpass them in uniting heteroge- 
neous conceptions into one expression and putting forward 
one meaning or another indiscriminately. For instance, the 
French philosopher Lachelier, when discussing beauty, says: 
Ne craignons pas de dire, qu'une verite, qui ne serait; 
pas belle, ne serait qu'un jeu logique de notre esprit et que 
la seule verite solide et digne de ce nom c'est la beaute. 6 

Besides the esthetic idealists who wrote and still write 

1 Knight, p. 116. 

2 Knight, pp. 118, 119. 
3 Knight, pp. 123, 124. 

4 "The most divine and especially the most perfect beauty contains the secret 
of the world," La philosophic en France, p. 232. 

5 "The whole world is the work of an absolute beauty, which is only the cause 
of things by the love it puts into them." 

6 "Let us not fear to say that a truth which is not beautiful, is but a logical 
play of our intelligence, and that the only truth that is solid and worthy of the 
name is beauty." Du fondemont de I' induction. 



156 TOLSTOY ON ART 

under the influence of German philosophy, the following 
recent writers have also influenced the comprehension of art 
and beauty in France: Taine, Guyau, Cherbuliez, Coster, 
and Veron. 

According to Taine (1828-1893), beauty is the manifesta- 
tion of the essential characteristic of any important idea 
more completely than it is expressed in reality. 1 

Guyau (1854-1888) taught that beauty is not something 
exterior to the object itself, is not, as it were, a parasitic 
growth on it, but is itself the actual blossoming forth of that 
on which it appears. Art is the expression of reasonable and 
conscious life, evoking in us both the deepest consciousness 
of existence and the highest feelings and loftiest thoughts. 
Art lifts man from his personal life into the universal life, 
not only by participation in the same ideas and beliefs, but 
also by similarity in feeling. 2 

According to Cherbuliez, art is an activity, (1) satisfying 
our innate love of forms (apparences) , (2) endowing these 
forms with ideas, (3) affording pleasure alike to our senses, 
heart, and reason. Beauty is not inherent in objects, but is 
an act of our souls. Beauty is an illusion; there is no 
absolute beauty. But what we consider characteristic and 
harmonious appears beautiful to us. 

Coster held that the ideas of the beautiful, the good, and 
the true, are innate. These ideas illumine our minds and 
are identical with God, who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. 
The idea of Beauty includes unity of essence, variety of 
constitutive elements, and order, which brings unity into the 
various manifestations of life. 3 

For the sake of completeness, I will further cite some of 
the very latest writings upon art. 

La Psychologie du beau et de Vart, par Mario Pilo 

i Philosophic de Vart, Vol. I, 1893, p. 47. 3 Knight, pp. 134. 

2 Knight, p. 139-141. 



WHAT IS ART? 157 

(1895), says that beauty is a product of our physical feelings. 
The aim of art is pleasure, but this pleasure (for some 
reason) he considers to be necessarily highly moral. 

The Essai sur Vart contemporain, par Fierens Gevaert 
(1897), says that art rests on its connection with the past 
and on the religious ideal of the present which the artist 
holds when giving to his work the form of his individuality. 

Then again, Sar Peladan's L'art idealiste et mystique 
(1894) says that beauty is one of the manifestations of God. 
II n'y a pas d' autre Realite que Dieu, il n'y a pas d' autre 
Verite que Dieu, il n'y a pas d'autre Beaute, que Dieu 
(p. 33). * This book is very fantastic and very illiterate, 
but is characteristic in the positions it takes up, and notice- 
able on account of a certain success it is having with the 
younger generation in France. 

All the esthetics diffused in France up to the present time 
are similar in kind, but among them Veron's L'esthetique 
(1878) forms an exception, being reasonable and clear. 
That work, though it does not give an exact definition of art, 
at least rids esthetics of the cloudy conception of an absolute 
beauty. 

According to Veron (1825-1889), art is the manifestation 
of emotion transmitted externally by a combination of lines, 
forms, colours, or by a succession of movements, sounds, or 
words subjected to certain rhythms. 2 

In England during this period, writers on esthetics define 
beauty more and more frequently not by its own qualities 
but by taste, and the discussion of beauty is superseded by 
a discussion of taste. 

After Reid (1704-1796), who acknowledged beauty as 
being entirely dependent on the spectator, Alison, in his 

1 There is no other Reality than God, there is no other Truth than God, there 
is no other beauty than God. 

2 L'esthetique, p. 106. 



158 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790), proved 
the same thing. From another side this was also asserted 
by Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), the grandfather of the 
celebrated Charles Darwin. 

He says that we consider beautiful that which is connected 
in our conception with what we love. Richard Knight's 
work, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, 
also tends in the same direction. 

Most of the English theories of esthetics are on the same 
lines. The prominent writers on esthetics in England during 
the nineteenth century were Charles Darwin (to some extent), 
Herbert Spencer, Grant Allen, Ker, and Knight. 

According to Charles Darwin (1809-1882 Descent of 
Man, 1871), beauty is a feeling natural not only to man 
but also to animals, and consequently to the ancestors of 
man. Birds adorn their nests and esteem beauty in their 
mates. Beauty has an influence on marriages. Beauty in- 
cludes a variety of diverse conceptions. The origin of the 
art of music is the call of the males to the females. 1 

According to Herbert Spencer (b. 1820), the origin of 
art is play, a thought previously expressed by Schiller. In 
the lower animals all the energy of life is expended in life- 
maintenance and race-maintenance; in man however there 
remains, after these needs are satisfied, some superfluous 
strength. This excess is used in play, which passes over 
into art. Play is an imitation of real activity, so is art. 
The sources of esthetic pleasure are threefold: (1) That 
"which exercises the faculties affected in the most complete 
way, with the fewest drawbacks from excess of exercise," 
(2) "the difference of a stimulus in large amount, which 
awakens a glow of agreeable feeling," (3) the partial revival 
of the same, with special combinations. 2 

In Todhunter's Theory of the Beautiful (1872), beauty is 

i Knight, p. 238. 2 Knight, pp. 239, 240. 



rWHAT IS ART? 159 

infinite loveliness, which we apprehend both by reason and 
by the enthusiasm of love. The recognition of beauty as be- 
ing such, depends on taste; there can be no criterion for it. 
The only approach to a definition is found in culture. (What 
culture is, is not defined.) Intrinsically, art that which af- 
fects us through lines, colours, sounds, or words is not the 
product of blind forces but of reasonable ones, working with 
mutual helpfulness towards a reasonable aim. Beauty is 
the reconciliation of contradictions. 1 

Grant Allen is a follower of Spencer, and in his Physiolog- 
ical Aesthetics (1877) he says that beauty has a physical 
origin. Esthetic pleasures come from the contemplation of 
the beautiful, but the conception of beauty is obtained by a 
physiological process. The origin of art is play: when there 
is a superfluity of physical strength man gives himself to 
play; when there is a superfluity of receptive power man 
gives himself to art. The beautiful is that which affords 
the maximum of stimulation with the minimum of waste. 
Differences in the estimation of beauty proceed from taste. 
Taste can be educated. We must have faith in the judg- 
ments "of the finest-nurtured and most discriminative" men. 
These people form the taste of the next generation. 2 

According to Ker's Essay on the Philosophy of Art 
(1883), beauty enables us to make part of the objective world 
intelligible to ourselves without being troubled by reference 
to other parts of it, as is inevitable in science. So that art 
destroys the opposition between the one and the many, be- 
tween the law and its manifestation, between the subject and 
its object, by uniting them. Art is the revelation and vindi- 
cation of freedom, because it is free from the darkness and 
incomprehensibility of finite things. 3 

According to Knight's Philosophy of the Beautiful, 

i Knight, pp. 240-243. 3 Knight, pp. 258, 259. 

2 Knight, pp. 250-252. 



160 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Part II (1893), beauty is (as with Schelling) the union of 
object and subject, the drawing forth from nature of that 
which is cognate to man, and the recognition in oneself of 
what is common to all nature. 

The opinions on beauty and on art here mentioned are far 
from exhausting what has been written on the subject. And 
every day fresh writers on esthetics arise, in whose disquisi- 
tions appear the same enchanted confusion and contradictori- 
ness in denning beauty. Some by inertia continue the 
mystical esthetics of Baumgarten and Hegel, with sundry 
variations; others transfer the question to the region of 
subjectivity, and seek for the foundation of the beautiful in 
questions of taste; others the estheticians of the very latest 
formation seek the origin of beauty in the laws of physi- 
ology; and finally, others again investigate the question 
quite independently of the conception of beauty. Thus, 
Sully in his Sensation and Intuition: Studies in Psychology 
and Esthetics (1874) dismisses the conception of beauty 
altogether; art, by his definition, being the production of 
some permanent object or passing action fitted to supply 
active enjoyment to the producer and a pleasurable impres- 
sion to a number of spectators or listeners, quite apart from 
any personal advantage derived from it. 1 

i Knight, p. 243. 



CHAPTER IV 

Definitions of art founded on beauty. Taste not definable. A clear defini- 
tion needed to enable us to recognise works of art. 

To what do these definitions of beauty amount? Not 
reckoning the thoroughly inaccurate definitions of beauty 
which fail to cover the conception of art and suppose beauty 
to consist either in utility, or in adjustment to a purpose, or 
in symmetry, or in order, or in proportion, or in smoothness, 
or in harmony of the parts, or in unity amid variety, or in 
various combinations of these, not reckoning these unsatis- 
factory attempts at objective definition, all the esthetic def- 
initions of beauty lead to two fundamental conceptions. 
The first is that beauty is something having an independent 
existence (existing in itself), that it is one of the manifesta- 
tions of the absolutely Perfect, of the Idea, of the Spirit, of 
Will, or of God ; the other is that beauty is a kind of pleasure 
received by us, not having personal advantage for its object. 

The first of these definitions was accepted by Fichte, 
Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and the philosophising 
Frenchmen: Cousin, Jouffroy, Ravaisson, and others, not to 
enumerate the second-rate esthetic philosophers. And this 
same objective-mystical definition of beauty is held by a ma- 
jority of the educated people of our day. It is a conception 
very widely spread especially among the elder generation. 

The second view, that beauty is a certain kind of pleasure 
received by us, not having personal advantage for its aim, 
finds favour chiefly among the English esthetic writers, and 
is shared by the other part of our society, principally by the 
younger generation. 

161 



162 TOLSTOY ON ART 

So there are (and it could not be otherwise) only two 
definitions of beauty: the one objective, mystical, merging 
this conception into that of the highest perfection, God a 
fantastic definition, founded on nothing; the other on the 
contrary a very simple, and intelligible, subjective one, which 
considers beauty to be that which pleases (I do not add to 
the word "pleases" the words "without the aim of advantage," 
because "pleases" naturally presupposes the absence of the 
idea of profit). 

On the one hand beauty is viewed as something mystical 
and very elevated, but unfortunately at the same time very 
indefinite, and consequently embracing philosophy, religion, 
and life itself (as in the theories of Schelling and Hegel 
and their German and French followers) ; or on the other 
hand (as necessarily follows from the definition of Kant and 
his adherents), beauty is simply a certain kind of disinterested 
pleasure received by us. And this conception of beauty, al- 
though it seems very clear, is unfortunately again inexact; 
for it widens out on the other side, that is, it includes the 
pleasure derived from drink, from food, from touching a 
delicate skin, and so forth, as is acknowledged by Guyau, 
Kralik, and others. 

It is true that, following the development of the esthetic 
doctrines on beauty, we may notice that though at first (in 
the times when the foundations of the science of esthetics 
were being laid) the metaphysical definition of beauty pre- 
vailed, yet the nearer we get to our own times the more does 
an experimental definition (recently assuming a physiological 
form) come to the front, so that at last we even meet with 
estheticians such as Veron and Sully, who try to escape en- 
tirely from the conception of beauty. But such estheticians 
have very little success, and with the majority of the public 
as well as of artists and the learned, a conception of beauty 
is firmly held which agrees with the definitions contained 




WHAT IS ART? 163 

in most of the esthetic treatises, that is, which regards beauty 
either as something mystical or metaphysical, or as a special 
kind of enjoyment. 

What then is this conception of beauty, so stubbornly 
held to by people of our circle and day as furnishing a def- 
inition of art? 

In its subjective aspect, we call beauty that which supplies 
us with a particular kind of pleasure. 

In its objective aspect, we call beauty something absolutely 
perfect, and we acknowledge it to be so only because we 
receive from the manifestation of this absolute perfection a 
certain kind of pleasure: so that this objective definition is 
nothing but the subjective conception differently expressed. 
In reality both conceptions of beauty amount to one and the 
same thing, namely, the reception by us of a certain kind 
of pleasure; that is to say, we call "beauty" that which 
pleases us without evoking in us desire. 

Such being the position of affairs, it would seem only 
natural that the science of art should decline to content 
itself with a definition of art based on beauty (that is, on that 
which pleases), and should seek a general definition appli- 
cable to all artistic productions, by reference to which we 
might decide whether a certain article belonged to the 
realm of art or not. But no such definition is supplied, as 
the reader may see from those summaries of esthetic 
theories which I have given, and as he may discover even 
more clearly from the original esthetic works if he will be 
at the pains to read them. All attempts to define absolute 
beauty in itself whether as an imitation of nature, or as 
suitability to its object, or as a correspondence of parts, or as 
symmetry, or as harmony, or as unity in variety, and so forth 
either define nothing at all, or define only some traits of 
some artistic productions and are far from including all that 
everybody has always held and still holds to be art, 



164 TOLSTOY ON ART 

There is no objective definition of beauty. The existing 
definitions (both the metaphysical and the experimental) 
amount only to one and the same subjective definition which 
is (strange as it seems to say so), that art is that which makes 
beauty manifest, and beauty is that which pleases (without 
exciting desire). Many estheticians have felt the insuffi- 
ciency and instability of such a definition and in order to give 
it a firm basis have asked themselves why a thing pleases. 
And they have converted the discussion on beauty into a 
question of taste, as did Hutcheson, Voltaire, Diderot, and 
others. But all attempts to define what taste is must lead 
to nothing, as the reader may see both from the history 
of esthetics and experimentally. There is and can be no 
explanation of why one thing pleases one man and displeases 
another, or vice versa. So that the whole existing science 
of esthetics fails to do what we might expect from it, 
being a mental activity calling itself a science, namely, it; 
does not define the qualities and laws of art, or of the 
beautiful (if that be the content of art), or the nature of 
taste (if taste decides the question of art and its merit), and 
then on the basis of such definitions acknowledge as art 
those productions which correspond to these laws and reject 
those which do not come under them. But this science of 
esthetics consists in first acknowledging a certain set of 
productions to be art (because they please us), and then 
framing such a theory of art that all these productions which 
please a certain circle of people should fit into it. There 
exists an art-canon according to which certain productions 
favoured by our circle are acknowledged as being art, 
the works of Phidias, Sophocles, Homer, Titian, Raphael, 
Bach, Beethoven, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, and others, 
and the esthetic laws must be such as to embrace all these 
productions. In esthetic literature you will incessantly meet 
with opinions on the merit and importance of art founded not 



WHAT IS ART? 165 

on any certain laws by which this or that is held to be good 
or bad but merely on the consideration whether this art tallies 
with the art-canon we have drawn up. 

The other day I was reading a far from ill-written book 
by Folgeldt. Discussing the demand for morality in works 
of art, the author plainly says that we must not demand 
morality in art. And in proof of this he advances the fact 
that, if we admit such a demand, Shakespeare's Romeo and 
Juliet and Goethe's Wilhelm Meister would not fit into the 
definition of good art; but since both these books are 
included in our canon of art, he concludes that the demand is 
unjust. And therefore it is necessary to find a definition of 
art which shall fit the works; and instead of a demand for 
morality, Folgeldt postulates as the basis of art a demand 
for the important (Bedeutunsvolles) . 

All the existing esthetic standards are built on this plan. 
Instead of giving a definition of true art and then deciding 
what is and what is not good art by judging whether a work 
conforms or does not conform to the definition, a certain 
class of works, which for some reason pleases a certain circle 
of people, is accepted as being art, and a definition of art 
is then devised to cover all these productions. I recently 
came upon a remarkable instance of this method in a very 
good German work, The History of Art in the Nineteenth 
Century, by Muther. Describing the pre-Raphaelites, the 
Decadents, and the Symbolists (who are already included in 
the canon of art), he not only does not venture to blame 
their tendency, but earnestly endeavours to widen his stand- 
ard so that it may include them all, since they appear to 
him to represent a legitimate reaction from the excesses of 
realism. No matter what insanities appear in art, when 
once they find acceptance among the upper classes of our 
society a theory is quickly invented to explain and sanction 
them ; just as if there had never been periods in history when 



166 TOLSTOY ON ART 

certain special circles of people recognised and approved 
false, deformed, and insensate art which subsequently left 
no trace and has been utterly forgotten. And to what lengths 
the insanity and deformity of art may go, especially when 
as in our days it knows that it is considered infallible, may 
be seen by what is being done in the art of our circle to-day. 

So that the theory of art founded on beauty, expounded 
by esthetics and in dim outline professed by the public, is 
nothing but the setting up as good of that which has pleased 
and pleases us, that is, pleases a certain class of people. 

In order to define any human activity it is necessary to 
understand its sense and importance. And in order to do 
this, it is primarily necessary to examine that activity in it- 
self, in its dependence on its causes, and in connection with 
its effects, and not merely in relation to the pleasure we can 
get from it. 

If we say that the aim of any activity is merely our 
pleasure and define it solely by that pleasure, our definition 
will evidently be a false one. But this is precisely what 
has occurred in the efforts to define art. Now if we con- 
sider the food question, it will not occur to anyone to affirm 
that the importance of food consists in the pleasure we re- 
ceive when eating it. Everyone understands that the sat- 
isfaction of our taste cannot serve as a basis for our definition 
of the merits of food, and that we have therefore no right 
to presuppose that the dinners with cayenne pepper, Limburg 
cheese, alcohol, and so on, to which we are accustomed and 
which please us, form the very best human food. 

In the same way, beauty, or that which pleases us, can 
in no sense serve as a basis for the definition of art; nor 
can a series of objects which afford us pleasure serve as the 
model of what art should be. 

To see the aim and purpose of art in the pleasure we get 
from it, is like assuming (as is done by people of the lowest 



WHAT IS ART? 167 

moral development, for instance by savages) that the purpose 
and aim of food is the pleasure derived when consuming it. 

Just as people who conceive the aim and purpose of food 
to be pleasure cannot recognise the real meaning of eating, 
so people who consider the aim of art to be pleasure cannot 
realise its true meaning and purpose, because they attribute 
to an activity the meaning of which lies in its connection 
with other phenomena of life, the false and exceptional aim 
of pleasure. People come to understand that the meaning -\ 
of eating lies in the nourishment of the body, only when / 
they cease to consider that the object of that activity is ' 
pleasure. And it is the same with regard to art. People 
will come to understand the meaning of art only when they 
cease to consider that the aim of that activity is beauty, that 
is to say, pleasure. The acknowledgment of beauty (that is, 
of a certain kind of pleasure received from art) as being the 
aim of art, not only fails to assist us in finding a definition 
of what art is but, on the contrary, by transferring the ques- 
tion into a region quite foreign to art (into metaphysical, 
psychological, physiological, and even historical discussions 
as to why such a production pleases one person and such 
another displeases or pleases someone else), it renders such 
definition impossible. And since discussions as to why one 
man likes pears and another prefers meat do not help towards 
finding a definition of what is essential in nourishment, so 
the solution of questions of taste in art (to which the dis- 
cussions on art involuntarily come) not only does not help 
to make clear what this particular human activity which we 
call art really consists in, but renders such elucidation quite 
impossible until we rid ourselves of a conception which 
justifies every kind of art at the cost of confusing the whole 
matter. 

To the question, What is this art, to which is offered up 
the labour of millions, the very lives of men, and even 



168 TOLSTOY ON ART 

morality itself? we have extracted replies from the existing 
esthetics which all amount to this: that the aim of art is 
beauty, that beauty is recognised by the enjoyment it gives, 
and that artistic enjoyment is a good and important thing, 
because it is enjoyment. In a word, that enjoyment is 
good because it is enjoyment. Thus what is considered the 
definition of art is no definition at all, but only a shuffle to 
justify existing art. Therefore, however strange it may 
seem to say so, in spite of the mountains of books written 
about art no exact definition of art has been constructed. 
And the reason of this is that the conception of art has been 
based on the conception of beauty. 






CHAPTER V 



Definitions of art not founded on beauty. Tolstoy's definition. The extent and 
necessity of art. How people in the past distinguished good from bad in art. 

What is art if we put aside the conception of beauty, 
which confuses the whole matter? The latest and most com- 
prehensible definitions of art, apart from the conception of 
beauty, are the following: (1) a, Art is an activity arising 
even in the animal kingdom, and springing from sexual 
desire and the propensity to play (Schiller, Darwin, Spencer), 
and b y accompanied by a pleasurable excitement of the 
nervous system (Grant Allen). This is the physiological- 
evolutionary definition. (2) Art is the external manifesta- 
tion, by means of lines, colours, movements, sounds, or words, 
of emotions felt by man (Veron). This is the experimental 
definition. According to the very latest definition (Sully), 
(3) Art is "the production of some permanent object or 
passing action which is fitted not only to supply an active 
enjoyment to the producer, but to convey a pleasurable im- 
pression to a number of spectators or listeners, quite apart 
from any personal advantage to be derived from it." 

Notwithstanding the superiority of these definitions to the 
metaphysical definitions which depended on the conception 
of beauty, they are yet far from exact. The first, the 
physiological-evolutionary definition (1) a, is inexact, be- 
cause instead of speaking about the artistic activity itself, 
which is the real matter in hand, it treats of the derivation of 
art. The modification of it, b, based on the physiological 
effects on the human organism, is inexact because within the 
limits of such definition many other human activities can be 

169 



v 



170 TOLSTOY ON ART 

included, as has occurred in the neo-esthetic theories which 
reckon as art the preparation of handsome clothes, pleasant 
scents, and even of victuals. 

The experimental definition, (2), which makes art consist 
in the expression of emotions, is inexact because a man may 
express his emotions by means of lines, colours, sounds, or 
words, and yet may not act on others by such expression 
and then the manifestation of his emotions is not art. 

The third definition (that of Sully) is inexact because in 
the production of objects or actions affording pleasure to the 
producer and a pleasant emotion to the spectators or hearers 
apart from personal advantage, may be included the showing 
of conjuring tricks or gymnastic exercises, and other activities 
which are not art. And, further, many things the production 
of which does not afford pleasure to the producer and the 
sensation received from which is unpleasant: such as gloomy, 
heart-rending scenes in a poetic description or a play, may 
nevertheless be undoubted works of art. 

The inaccuracy of all these definitions arises from the fact 
that in them all (as also in the metaphysical definitions) the 
object considered is the pleasure art may give and not the 
purpose it may serve in the life of man and of humanity. 

In order correctly to define art it is necessary first of all 
to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure, and to consider 
it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in 
this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the 
means of intercourse between man and man. 

Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a 
certain kind of relationship both with him who produced 
or is producing the art, and with all those who, simul- 
taneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same 
artistic impression. 

Speech, transmitting the thoughts and experiences of men, 
serves as a means of union among them, and art serves 



WHAT IS ART? 171 

a similar purpose. The peculiarity of this latter means 
of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means 
of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man s 
transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he 
transmits his feelings. 

The activity of art is based on the fact that a man receiv- 
ing through his sense of heading or sight another man's ex- 
pression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion 
which moved the man who expressed it. To take the simplest 
example: one man laughs and another, who hears, becomes 
merry; or a man weeps and another, who hears, feels sorrow. 
A man is excited or irritated, and another man, seeing him, 
is brought to a similar state of mind. By his movements or 
by the sounds of his voice a man expresses courage and deter- 
mination or sadness and calmness, and this state of mind 
passes on to others. A man suffers, manifesting his suffer- 
ings by groans and spasms, and this suffering transmits itself t 
to other people; a man expresses his feelings of admiration, 
devotion, fear, respect, or love to certain objects, persons, or 
phenomena, and others are infected by the same feelings of 
admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to the same objects, 
persons, or phenomena. 

And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man's 
expression of feeling, and to experience those feelings himself, 
that the activity of art is based. 

If a man infects another or others directly, immediately, by 
his appearance or by the sounds he gives vent to at the very 
time he experiences the feeling; if he causes another man 
to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning, or to laugh 
or cry when he himself is obliged to laugh or cry, or to suffer 
when he himself is suffering that does not amount to art. 

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining 
another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, 
expresses that feeling by certain external indications. To 



172 TOLSTOY ON ART 

take the simplest example: a boy having experienced, let us 
say, fear on encountering a wolf, relates that encounter; and 
in order to evoke in others the feeling he has experienced, 
describes himself, his condition before the encounter, the 
surroundings, the wood, his own lightheartedness, and then 
the wolf's appearance, its movements, the distance between 
himself and the wolf, and so forth. All this, if only the 
boy when telling the story, again experiences the feelings 
he had lived through, and infects the hearers and compels 
them to feel what he had experienced is art. Even if the 
boy had not seen a wolf but had frequently been afraid of 
one, and if, wishing to evoke in others the fear he had felt, 
he invented an encounter with a wolf and recounted it so 
as to make his hearers share the feelings he experienced when 
he feared the wolf, that also would be art. And just in the 
same way it is art if a man, having experienced either the 
fear of suffering or the attraction of enjoyment (whether 
in reality or in imagination), expresses these feelings on 
canvas or in marble so that others are infected by them. 
And it is also art if a man feels or imagines to himself 
feelings of delight, gladness, sorrow, despair, courage, or 
despondency and the transition from one to another of these 
feelings, and expresses them by sounds so that the hearers 
are infected by them and experience them as they were ex- 
perienced by the composer. 

The feelings with which the artist infects others may be 
most various very strong or very weak, very important or 
very insignificant, very bad or very good: feelings of love 
of one's country, self-devotion and submission to fate or to 
God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in 
a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, 
courage expressed in a triumphal march, merriment evoked 
by a dance, humour evoked by a funny story, the feeling 



WHAT IS ART? 173 

of quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a 
lullaby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful 
arabesque it is all art. 

If only the spectators or auditors are infected by the feel- 
ings which the author has felt, it is art. 

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced and, 
having evoked it in oneself, then by means of movements, 
lines, colours, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to 
transmit that feeling that others experience the same feeling 
this is the activity of art. 

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man 
consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to 
others feelings he has lived through, and that others are in- 
fected by these feelings and also experience them. 

Art is not as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation 
of some mysterious Idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the 
esthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his 
excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man's 
emotions by external signs; it is not the production of 
pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is 
a means of union among men, joining them together in the 
same feelings and indispensable for the life and progress 
towards well-being of individuals and of humanity. 

As, thanks to man's capacity to express thoughts by words, 
every man may know all that has been done for him in the 
realms of thought by all humanity before his day, and can, in 
the present, thanks to this capacity to understand the thoughts 
of others, become a sharer in their activity and can also 
himself hand on to his contemporaries and descendants the 
thoughts he has assimilated from others as well as those which 
have arisen within himself; so, thanks to man's capacity to 
be infected with the feelings of others by means of art, all that 
is being lived through by his contemporaries is accessible to 



174 TOLSTOY ON ART 

him, as well as the feelings experienced by men thousands of 
years ago, and he has also the possibility of transmitting his 
own feelings to others. 

If people lacked this capacity to receive the thoughts con- 
ceived by the men who preceded them and to pass on to 
others their own thoughts, men would be like wild beasts, or 
like Kasper Hauser. 1 

And if men lacked this other capacity of being infected by 
art, people might be almost more savage still, and above all 
more separated from, and more hostile to, one another. 

And therefore the activity of art is a most important one, 
as important as the activity of speech itself and as generally 
diffused. 

As speech does not act on us only in sermons, orations, or 
books, but in all those remarks by which we interchange 
thoughts and experiences with one another, so also art, 
in the wide sense of the word, permeates our whole life, but 
it is only to some of its manifestations that we apply the 
term in the limited sense of the word. 

We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we 
hear and see in theatres, concerts, and exhibitions; together 
with buildings, statues, poems, novels. . . . But all this is but 
the smallest part of the art by which we communicate with 
each other in life. All human life is filled with works of 
art of every kind from cradle-song, jest, mimicry, the 
ornamentation of houses, dress, and utensils, to church 
services, buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. 
It is all artistic activity. So that by art, in the limited sense 
of the word, we do not mean all human activity transmit- 
ting feelings, but only that part which we for some reason 

1 "The foundling of Nuremberg," found in the market-place of that town on 
23rd May 1828, apparently some sixteen years old. He spoke little, and was almost 
totally ignorant even of common objects. He subsequently explained that he had 
been brought up in confinement underground, and visited by only one man, 
whom he saw but seldom. 



WHAT IS ART? 175 

select from it and to which we attach special importance. 

This special importance has always been given by all 
men to that part of this activity which transmits feelings 
flowing from their religious perception, and this small part 
they have specifically called art, attaching to it the full mean- 
ing of the word. 

That was how men of old Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle 
looked on art. Thus did the Hebrew prophets and the 
ancient Christians regard art. Thus it was, and still is, 
understood by the Mohammedans, and thus is it still under- 
stood by religious folk among our own peasantry. 

Some teachers of mankind as Plato in his Republic, 
and people such as the primitive Christians, the strict 
Mohammedans, and the Buddhists have gone so far as to 
repudiate all art. 

People viewing art in this way (in contradiction to the 
prevalent view of to-day which regards any art as good if 
only it affords pleasure) held and hold that art (as contrasted 
with speech, which need not be listened to) is so highly 
dangerous in its power to infect people against their wills, 
that mankind will lose far less by banishing all art than 
by tolerating each and every art. 

Evidently such people were wrong in repudiating all 
art, for they denied what cannot be denied one of the in- 
dispensable means of communication, without which mankind 
could not exist. But not less wrong are the people of civilised 
European society of our class and day, in favouring any art 
if it but serves beauty, that is, gives people pleasure. 

Formerly, people feared lest among the works of art there 
might chance to be some causing corruption, and they pro- 
hibited art altogether. Now they only fear lest they should 
be deprived of any enjoyment art can afford, and patronise 
any art. And I think the last error is much grosser than 
the first, and that its consequences are far more harmful. 



CHAPTER VI 

How art for the sake of pleasure has come into esteem. Religions indicate 
what is good and bad. Church Christianity. The Renaissance. Scepticism of 
the upper classes. They confound beauty with goodness. 

But how could it happen that that very art which in 
ancient times was merely tolerated (if tolerated at all), should 
have come in our times to be invariably considered a good 
thing if only it affords pleasure? 

It has resulted from the following causes. The estimation 
of the value of art (that is, of the feelings it transmits) de- 
pends on men's perception of the meaning of life ; depends on 
what they hold to be the good and the evil of life. And 
what is good and what is evil is denned by what are termed 
religions. 

Humanity unceasingly moves forward from a lower, more 
partial and obscure, understanding of life to one more 
general and more lucid. And in this as in every movement 
there are leaders those who have understood the meaning 
of life more clearly than others and of these advanced men 
there is always one who has in his words and by his life 
expressed this meaning more clearly, lucidly, and strongly 
than others. This man's expression of the meaning of life, 
together with those superstitions, traditions, and ceremonies 
which usually form round the memory of such a man, is 
what is called a religion. Religions are the exponents of 
the highest comprehension of life accessible to the best and 
foremost men at a given time in a given society; a compre- 
hension towards which all the rest of that society must in- 
evitably and irresistibly advance. And therefore religions 
alone have always served, and still serve, as bases for the 

176 



WHAT IS ART? 177 

valuation of human sentiments. If feelings bring men nearer 
the ideal their religion indicates, if they are in harmony with 
it and do not contradict it, they are good; if they estrange 
men from it and oppose it they are bad. 

If the religion places the meaning of life in worshippi j 
one God and fulfilling what is regarded as His will, as was 
the case among the Jews, then the feelings flowing from 
love of that God and of His law, successfully transmitted 
through the art of poetry by the prophets, by the psalms, or 
by the epic of the book of Genesis, are good, high art. All 
opposing that, as for instance the transmission of feelings 
of devotion to strange gods, or of feelings incompatible with 
the law of God, would be considered bad art. Or if, as 
was the case among the Greeks, the religion places the mean- 
ing of life in earthly happiness, in beauty and in strength, 
then art successfully transmitting the joy and energy of life 
would be considered good art, but art transmitting feelings 
of effeminacy or despondency would be bad art. If the 
meaning of life is seen in the well-being of one's nation, 
or in honouring one's ancestors and continuing the mode of 
life led by them, as was the case among the Romans and the 
Chinese respectively, then art transmitting feelings of joy at 
the sacrifice of one's personal well-being for the common 
weal, or at the exaltation of one's ancestors and the main- 
tenance of their traditions, would be considered good art; 
but art expressing feelings contrary to these would be regarded 
as bad. If the meaning of life is seen in freeing oneself from 
the yoke of animalism, as is the case among the Buddhists, 
then art successfully transmitting feelings that elevate the 
soul and humble the flesh will be good art, and all that 
transmits feelings strengthening the bodily passions will be 
bad art. 

In every age and in every human society there exists a 
religious sense, common to that whole society, of what is 



178 TOLSTOY ON ART 

good and what is bad, and it is this religious conception 
that decides the value of the feelings transmitted by art. 
And therefore among all nations art which transmitted 
feelings considered to be good by this general religious sense 
was recognised as being good and was encouraged, but art 
which transmitted feelings considered to be bad by this general 
religious sense was recognised as being bad and was rejected. 
All the rest of the immense field of art by means of which 
people communicate one with another was not esteemed at 
all and was only noticed when it ran counter to the religious 
conception of its age, and then merely to be repudiated. 
Thus it was among all nations, Greeks, Jews, Indians, 
Egyptians, and Chinese, and so it was when Christianity 
appeared. 

The Christianity of the first centuries recognised as pro- 
ductions of good art only legends, lives of saints, sermons, 
prayers and hymn-singing, evoking love of Christ, emotion 
at his life, desire to follow his example, renunciation of 
worldly life, humility, and the love of others ; all productions 
transmitting feelings of personal enjoyment they considered 
to be bad and therefore rejected, for instance, tolerating 
plastic representations only when they were symbolical, they 
rejected all the pagan sculptures. 

This was so among the Christians of the first centuries, who 
accepted Christ's teaching if not quite in its true form at 
least not in the perverted, paganised form in which it was 
accepted subsequently. 

But besides this Christianity, from the time of the whole- 
sale conversion of nations by order of the authorities, as in 
the days of Constantine, Charlemagne, and Vladimir, there 
appeared another, a Church-Christianity, which was nearer 
to paganism than to Christ's teaching. And this Church- 
Christianity, in accordance with its own teaching, estimated 



WHAT IS ART? 179 

quite otherwise the feelings of people and the productions 
of art which transmitted those feelings. 

This Church-Christianity not only did not acknowledge the 
fundamental and essential positions of true Christianity, 
the immediate relationship of each man to the Father, the 
consequent brotherhood and equality of all men, and the 
substitution of humility and love in place of every kind of 
violence, but on the contrary having set up a heavenly 
hierarchy similar to the pagan mythology and having intro- 
duced the worship of Christ, of the Virgin, of angels, of 
apostles, of saints, and of martyrs, and not only of these 
divinities themselves but also of their images, it made blind 
faith in the Church and its ordinances the essential point of 
its teaching. 

However foreign this teaching may have been to true 
Christianity, however degraded not only in comparison 
with true Christianity but even with the life-conception of 
Romans such as Julian and others, it was for all that, to 
the barbarians who accepted it, a higher doctrine than their 
former adoration of gods, heroes, and good and bad spirits. 
And therefore this teaching was a religion to them, and on 
the basis of that religion the art of the time was assessed. 
And art transmitting pious adoration of the Virgin, Jesus, 
the saints, and the angels, a blind faith in and submission 
to the Church, fear of torments and hope of blessedness in a 
life beyond the grave, was considered good; while all art 
opposed to this was held to be bad. 

The teaching on the basis of which this art arose was a 
perversion of Christ's teaching, but the art which sprang up 
on this perverted teaching was nevertheless a true art, * 
because it corresponded to the religious view of life held by 
the people among whom it arose. 

The artists of the Middle Ages, vitalised by the same 



180 TOLSTOY ON ART 

source of feeling religion as the mass of the people, and 
transmitting in architecture, sculpture, painting, music, 
poetry, or drama, the feelings and states of mind they ex- 
perienced, were true artists; and their activity, founded on 
the highest conceptions accessible to their age and common 
to the entire people, though for our times a mean art. was 
nevertheless a true one, shared by the whole community. 

And this was the state of things until, in the upper, rich, 
more educated classes of European society, doubt arose as to 
the truth of that understanding of life which was expressed 
by Church-Christianity. When, after the Crusades and the 
maximum development of papal power and its abuses, people 
of the rich classes became acquainted with the wisdom of 
the classics, and saw on the one hand the reasonable lucidity 
of the teaching of the ancient sages and on the other hand 
the incompatibility of the Church doctrine with the teaching 
of Christ, they lost all possibility of continuing to believe 
the Church teaching. 

If in externals they still kept to the forms of Church 
teaching, they could no longer believe in it, and held to it 
only by inertia and for the sake of influencing the masses, 
who continued to believe blindly in Church doctrine, and 
whom the upper classes for their own advantage considered 
it necessary to encourage in those beliefs. 

So that a time came when Church-Christianity ceased to 
be the general religious doctrine of all Christian people: 
some the masses continued blindly to believe in it, but 
the upper classes those in whose hands lay the power and 
wealth and therefore the leisure to produce art and the means 
to stimulate it ceased to believe that teaching. 

In regard to religion the upper circles of the Middle Ages 
found themselves in the position the educated Romans were 
in before Christianity arose, that is, they no longer believed 
in the religion of the masses, but had no beliefs to put in 



WHAT IS ART? 181 

place of the worn-out Church doctrine, which for them had 
lost its meaning. 

There was only this difference, that whereas for the Ro- 
mans who lost faith in their emperor-gods and household- 
gods it was impossible to extract anything further from all 
the complex mythology they had borrowed from all the con- 
quered nations, and it was consequently necessary to find 
a completely new conception of life, the people of the Middle 
Ages when they doubted the truth of the Church teaching 
had no need to seek a fresh one. That Christian teaching 
which they professed in a perverted form as Church doctrine, 
had mapped out the path of human progress so far ahead 
that they had only to rid themselves of those perversions 
which hid the teaching announced by Christ, and to adopt 
its real meaning if not completely then at least in some 
greater degree than that in which the Church had held it. 
And this was partially done not only in the reformations of 
Wyclif, Huss, Luther, and Calvin, but by all that current 
of non-Church Christianity, represented in earlier times 
by the Paulicians and the Bogomilites, 1 and afterwards by the 
Waldenses and the other non- Church Christians who were 
called heretics. But this could be, and was, done chiefly 
by poor people who did not rule. A few of the rich and 
strong, as Francis of Assisi and others, accepted the Christian 
teaching in its full significance even though it undermined 
their privileged positions. But most people of the upper 
classes (though in the depth of their souls they had lost faith 
in the Church teaching) could not or would not act thus, 
because the essence of that Christian view of life which stood 
ready to be adopted when once they rejected the Church 
faith, was a teaching of the brotherhood (and therefore the 
equality) of man, and this negatived those privileges on which 

1 Eastern sects well known in early Church history, who rejected the Church's 
rendering of Christ's teaching and were cruelly persecuted. A. M. 



182 TOLSTOY ON ART 

they lived, in which they had grown up and been educated, 
and to which they were accustomed. Not in the depth of 
their hearts believing in the Church teaching, which had 
outlived its age and had no longer any true meaning for them, 
and not being strong enough to accept true Christianity, 
men of these rich, governing classes popes, kings, dukes, 
and all the great ones of the earth were left without any 
religion, with but the external forms of one, which they 
supported as being profitable and even necessary for them- 
selves, since these forms supported a teaching which justified 
the privileges they made use of. In reality these people 
believed in nothing, just as the Romans of the first centuries 
of our era believed in nothing. But at the same time these 
were the people who had the power and the wealth, and these 
were the people who rewarded art and directed it. 

And, let it be noticed, it was just among these people that 
there grew up an art esteemed, not according to its success in 
expressing men's religious feelings but in proportion to its 
beauty, in other words, according to the enjoyment it gave. 

No longer able to believe in the Church religion, whose 
falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true 
Christian teaching which denounced their whole manner of 
life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any 
religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that 
pagan view of things which places life's meaning in personal 
enjoyment. And then took place among the upper classes 
what is called the Renaissance of science and art, which was 
really not only a denial of every religion, but also an assertion 
that religion is unnecessary. 

The Church doctrine is so coherent a system that it cannot 
be altered or corrected without destroying it altogether. As 
soon as doubt arose with regard to the infallibility of the 
Pope (and this doubt was then in the minds of all educated 
people), doubt inevitably followed as to the truth of tradition. 



WHAT IS ART? 183 

But doubt as to the truth of tradition is fatal not only to 
popery and Catholicism, but also to the whole Church creed 
with all its dogmas: the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, 
and the Trinity; and it destroys the authority of the 
Scriptures, since they were considered to be inspired only 
because the tradition of the Church decided it so. 

So that the majority of the highest classes of that age, 
even the popes and the ecclesiastics, really believed in nothing 
at all. In the Church doctrine these people did not believe, 
for they saw its insolvency; but neither could they follow 
Francis of Assisi, Peter of Chelczic, 1 and most of the heretics, 
in acknowledging the moral, social teaching of Christ, for 
that teaching undermined their social position. So these 
people remained without any religious view of life. And 
having none they could have no standard wherewith to esti- 
mate what was good and what was bad art, but that of^ 
personal enjoyment. And having acknowledged their cri- 
terion of what was good to be pleasure, that is beauty, these 
people of the upper classes of European society went back 
in their comprehension of art to the gross conception of the 
primitive Greeks, which Plato had already condemned. And 
conformably to this understanding of life a theory of art was 
formulated. 

1 Peter of Chelczic, a Bohemian, was one of the successors of John Huss. In 
1457 he was leader of the non-resistants called the United Brethren. He 
was the author of a remarkable book, The Net of Faith, directed against Church 
and State. It is mentioned in Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. 
A. M. 



CHAPTER VII 

An esthetic theory framed to suit the view of life of the ruling classes. 

From the time that people of the upper classes lost faith in 
Church-Christianity, beauty (that is to say, the pleasure re- 
ceived from art) became their standard of good and bad art. 
And in accordance with that view, an esthetic theory natu- 
rally sprang up among those upper classes, justifying such 
a conception a theory according to which the aim of art is 
to exhibit beauty. The partisans of this esthetic theory in 
confirmation of its truth affirmed that it was no invention of 
their own, but that it existed in the nature of things and 
was recognised even by the ancient Greeks. But this asser- 
tion was quite arbitrary and had no foundation other than 
the fact that among the ancient Greeks, in consequence of 
the low level of their moral ideal (as compared with the 
Christian), their conception of the good, *ya06v y was not 
yet sharply divided from their conception of the beautiful, 

to KaXov, 

That highest perfection of goodness (not only not identical 
with beauty but for the most part contrasting with it) which 
was discerned by the Jews even in the times of Isaiah and 
fully expressed by Christianity, was quite unknown to the 
Greeks. They supposed that the beautiful must necessarily 
also be the good. It is true that their foremost thinkers 
Socrates, Plato, Aristotle felt that goodness may happen not 
to coincide with beauty. Socrates expressly subordinated 
beauty to goodness; Plato, to unite the two conceptions, 
spoke of spiritual beauty; while Aristotle demanded from art 
that it should have a moral influence on people (*a0apais). 

184 



WHAT IS ART? 185 

But notwithstanding all this, they could not quite dismiss 
the notion that beauty and goodness coincide. 

Consequently, in the language of that period, a compound 
word (Ka\oKayadia f beauty-goodness) came into use to express 
that notion. 

Evidently the Greek sages began to draw near to that 
perception of goodness which is expressed in Buddhism and 
in Christianity, but got entangled in denning the relation 
between goodness and beauty. Plato's reasoning about 
beauty and goodness is full of contradictions. And it was 
just this confusion of ideas that those Europeans of a later 
age, who had lost all faith, tried to elevate into a law. 
They tried to prove that this union of beauty and goodness 
is inherent in the very essence of things; that beauty and 
goodness must coincide; and that the word and conception 
KoXoKayaSla (which had a meaning for Greeks but has none 
at all for Christians) represents the highest ideal of humanity. 
On this misunderstanding the new science of esthetics was 
built up: and to justify its existence the teachings of the an- 
cients on art were twisted so that it should appear that this in- 
vented science of esthetics had existed among the Greeks. 

In reality the reasoning of the ancients on art was quite 
unlike ours. As Benard, in his book on the esthetics of 
Aristotle, quite justly remarks : Pour qui vent y regarder de 
pres, la theorie du beau et celle de Vart sont tout a fait 
separees dans Aristote, comme elles le sont dans Plat on et chez 
tous leurs successeurs (L'esthetique d 'Aristote et de ses 
successeurs, Paris, 1889, p. 28). 1 And, indeed, the reason- 
ing of the ancients on art not only does not confirm our 
science of esthetics, but rather contradicts its doctrine of 
beauty. But nevertheless all the esthetic guides, from 
Schasler to Knight, declare that the science of the beautiful 

1 Anyone examining closely may see that the theory of beauty and that of 
art are quite separated in Aristotle as they are in Plato and in all their successors. 



186 TOLSTOY ON ART 

esthetic science was begun by the ancients, by Socrates, 
Plato, Aristotle; and was continued, they say, to some extent 
by the Epicureans and Stoics, by Seneca and Plutarch, down 
to Plotinus. But it is supposed that this science, by some 
unfortunate accident, suddenly vanished in the fourth cen- 
tury and stayed away for about 1500 years, and only after 
these 1500 years had passed did it revive in Germany, a. d. 
1750, in Baumgarten's doctrine. 

After Plotinus, says Schasler, fifteen centuries passed 
away during which there was not the slightest scientific in- 
terest shewn for the world of beauty and art. These one 
and a half thousand years, says he, have been lost to esthetics 
and have contributed nothing towards the erection of the 
learned edifice of this science. 1 

In reality nothing of the kind happened. The science of 
esthetics, the science of the beautiful, neither did nor could 
vanish, because it never existed. Simply the Greeks (just 
like everybody else, always and everywhere) considered 
art (like everything else) good only when it served goodness 
(as they understood goodness), and bad when it was in 
opposition to that goodness. And the Greeks themselves 
were so little developed morally that goodness and beauty 

1 Die Lucke von fiinf Jahrhunderten welche zwischen den Kunst-philosophischen 
Betrachtungen des Plato und Aristoteles ur.d die des Plotins fallt, kann zwar 
auffallig erscheinen; dennoch kann man eigentlich nicht sagen, dass in dieser 
Zwischenziet uberhaupt von asthetischen Dingen nicht die Rede gewesen; oder 
dass gar ein vblliger Mangel an Zusammenhang zwischen den Kunsc-anschauungen 
des letztgenamten Philosophen und denen dei ersteren existire. Freilich wurde 
die von Aristotle begrundete Wissenschaft in Nichts dadurch gefordert ! immerhin 
aber zeigt sich in jener Zwischenzeit noch ein gewisses Interesse fur asthetische 
Fragen. Nach Plotin aber, die wenigen, ihm in der Ziet nahestehenden Philoso- 
phen, wie Longin, Augustin, u. s. f. kommen, wie wir gesehen, kaum in Belracht 
und schliessen sich iibrigens in ihrer Anschauungsweise an ihn an, vergehen nicht 
fiinf, sondern fiinjzehen Jahrhunderte, in denen von irgend einer wissenschaft- 
lichen Interesse fur die Welt des Schonen und der Kunst nichts zu spuren ist. 

Diese anderthalbtausend Jahre, innerhalb deren der Weltgeist durch die mannig- 
fachsten Kampfe hindurch zu einer vbllig neuen Gestaltung des Lebens sich dur- 
charbeitete, sind fiir die Aesthetik, hinsichtlich des -weiteren Ausbaus dieser 



WHAT IS ART? 187 

seemed to them to coincide. On that obsolete Greek view of 
life was erected the science of esthetics, invented by men of 
the eighteenth century, and especially shaped and mounted in 
Baumgarten's theory. The Greeks (as anyone may see who 
will read Benard's admirable book on Aristotle and his suc- 
cessors, and Walter's work on Plato) never had a science of 
esthetics. 

Esthetic theories arose about one hundred and fifty years 
ago among the wealthy classes of the Christian European 
world, and arose simultaneously among different nations, 
German, Italian, Dutch, French, and English. The founder 
and organiser of it, who gave it a scientific and theoretic form, 
was Baumgarten. 

With a characteristically German external exactitude, 
pedantry, and symmetry, he devised and expounded this 
extraordinary theory. And notwithstanding its obvious 
lack of substance, no one else's theory so pleased the cultured 
crowd or was accepted so readily and with such an absence 
of criticism. It so suited the people of the upper classes 
that to this day, notwithstanding its entirely fantastic charac- 

Wissenschaft verloren. Kritische Geschichte der Aesthetik, von Max Schasler. 
Berlin, 1872, p. 253, 25. 



The gap of five hundred years, which occurred between the artistic-philosophic 
observations of Plato and Aristotle and those of Plotinus, may indeed appear strik- 
ing, but one cannot exactly say that in this interval of time there was absolutely 
no mention of esthetic matters; or even that a complete lack of correspondence 
exists between the art-views of the last-named philosopher and that of the for- 
mer. It is true that the science founded by Aristotle was not in any way advanced 
thereby; but, for all that, during this interval a certain interest in esthetic ques- 
tions still appears. But after Plotinus (the few philosophers near him in time, 
such as Longinus, Augustinus and so forth, hardly come into question as we 
have seen, and moreover they adhere to him in their views) there passed not 
five, but fifteen centuries in which there is no indication of any sort of scientific 
interest for the world of the beautiful and of art. 

These one-and-a-half-thousand years, within which the world-spirit worked out 
a completely new foundation of life, are lost for esthetics as regards any further 
construction of this science. 



188 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ter and the arbitrary nature of its assertions, it is repeated 
by learned and unlearned as though it were something indu- 
bitable and self-evident. 

Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli, 1 and so, or even 
more so, theories habent sua fata according to the condition 
of error in which that society lives among whom and for 
whom the theories are invented. If a theory justifies the false 
position in which a certain part of a society is living, then 
however unfounded or even obviously false the theory may 
be, it is accepted and becomes an article of faith to that sec- 
tion of society. Such, for instance, was the celebrated and 
unfounded theory expounded by Malthus, of the tendency 
of the population of the world to increase in geometrical 
progression but of the means of subsistence to increase only 
in arithmetical progression, and of the consequent over- 
population of the world; such also was the theory (an 
outgrowth of the Malthusian) of selection and struggle for 
existence as the basis of human progress. Such again is 
Marx's theory, which regards the gradual destruction of 
small private production by large capitalistic production, now 
going on around us, as an inevitable decree of fate. How- 
ever unfounded such theories are, however contrary to all 
that is known and confessed by humanity, and however ob- 
viously immoral they may be, they are credulously accepted, 
pass uncriticised, and are preached, perhaps for centuries, 
until the conditions are destroyed which they served to justify, 
or until their absurdity has become too evident. To this 
class belongs this astonishing theory of the Baumgartenian 
Trinity: Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, according to which 
it appears that the very best that can be done by the art of 
nations after 1900 years of Christian teaching is to choose 
as the ideal of their life the ideal that was held by a small, 
semi-savage, slave-holding people who lived 2000 years ago, 

1 The fate of books depends on the head of the reader. 



WHAT IS ART? 189 

who imitated the nude human body extremely well and erected 
buildings pleasant to look at. All these incompatibilities 
pass completely unnoticed. Learned people write long, 
cloudy treatises on beauty as a member of the esthetic trinity 
of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness; das Schone, das Wahre, 
das Gute; le Beau, le Vrai, le Bon, are repeated with capital 
letters by philosophers, estheticians, and artists, by private in- 
dividuals, by novelists and by feuilletonistes; and they all 
think when pronouncing these sacrosanct words that they 
speak of something quite definite and solid something on 
which they can base their opinions. In reality these words 
not only have no definite meaning, but they hinder us in at- 
taching any definite meaning to existing art; they are wanted 
only for the purpose of justifying the false importance we 
attribute to an art that transmits every kind of feeling if only 
those feelings afford us pleasure. 1 

1 What is Art? was translated by me from Tolstoy's MSS., which he sent me 
chapter by chapter as he wrote it. He revised his work to such an extent that 
some chapters were re- written three times over after he first sent them to me for 
translation. The following passages belonging to an early version of this chapter, 
though he did not retain them in his final revision, seem worth preserving, so I 
give them here in a foot-note: 

We only need escape for a moment from the habit of considering this trinity 
of Goodness, Beauty and Truth, presented to us by Baumgarten, to be as true as 
the Trinity of religion, and need only ask ourselves what we all have always under- 
stood by the words which make up this triad, in order to be convinced of the 
utterly fantastic nature of the union into one, of three absolutely different words 
and conceptions which are not even commensurable in meaning. 

Goodness, Beauty, and Truth are put on one level, and all three conceptions 
are treated as though they were fundamental and metaphysical. Whereas in 
reality such is not at all the case. 

Goodness is the eternal, the highest, aim of our life. However we may under- 
stand goodness, our life is nothing but a striving towards the good, that is, towards 
God. 

Goodness is really the fundamental metaphysical perception which forms the 
essence of our consciousness: a perception not denned by reason. 

Goodness is that which cannot be defined by anything else, but which defines 
everything else. 

But Beauty if we do not want mere words but speak about what we under- 
stand beauty is nothing but what pleases us. The notion of beauty not only 
does not coincide with goodness, but rather is contrary to it; for the good most 



190 TOLSTOY ON ART 

often coincides with victory over the passions, while beauty is at the root of all 
our passions. 

The more utterly we surrender ourselves to beauty the farther we depart from 
goodness. I know that to this people always reply that there is a moral and 
spiritual beauty, but this is merely playing with words, for by spiritual and 
moral beauty nothing else is understood but goodness. For the most part, beauty 
of soul, or goodness not only does not coincide with what is ordinarily un- 
derstood as beauty, but is contrary to it. 

As to truth still less can we attribute to this member of the trinity iden- 
tity with goodness, or even any independent existence at all. 

By truth we merely mean the correspondence of an expression, or of the defi- 
nition of an object, with reality, or with an understanding of the object common 
to everyone, and therefore it is a means of arriving at the good. But what is 
there in common between the conceptions of beauty and truth on the one hand, 
and of goodness on the other? Truth spoken expressly to cause annoyance cer- 
tainly does not harmonise with goodness. 

Not only are beauty and truth not conceptions equivalent to goodness, and not 
only do they not form one entity with goodness, but they do not even coincide 
with it. For instance, Socrates and Pascal as well as many others, considered 
that learning the truth about unnecessary things does not accord with good- 
ness. With beauty, truth has not even anything in common, but for the most part 
is in contradiction with it, for truth generally exposes the deception and de- 
stroys the illusion which is a chief condition of beauty. 

And lo and behold! the arbitrary conjunction into one, of these three con- 
ceptions which are not commensurable but foreign to one another, has served 
as the basis for that amazing theory according to which the difference between 
good art, transmitting good feeling, and bad art, transmitting bad feeling, is 
completely obliterated, and one of the lowest manifestations of art, art merely 
for enjoyment that art against which all the teachers of humanity have 
warned mankind has come to be considered the highest art. 



CHAPTER VIII 

Who have adopted this esthetic theory? Real art needful for all men. Our 
art too expensive, too unintelligible, and too harmful, for the masses. The theory 
of "the elect" in art. 

But if art is a human activity having for its purpose the 
transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to 
which men have risen, how could it be that humanity for a 
certain rather considerable period of its existence (from the 
time people ceased to believe in Church doctrine down to 
the present day) should exist without this important activity, 
and instead of it should put up with an insignificant artistic 
activity only affording pleasure? 

To answer this question it is necessary first of all to correct 
the current error people make in attributing to our art 
the significance of true, universal art. We are so accustomed 
not only naively to consider the Circassian family the 
best stock of people, but also the Anglo-Saxon race the 
best race if we are Englishmen or Americans, or the Teutonic 
if we are Germans, or the Gallo-Latin if we are French, 
or the Slavonic if we are Russians, that when speaking of our 
own art we feel fully convinced not only that our art is true 
art, but even that it is the best and only true art. But in 
reality our art is not only not the only art (as the Bible was 
once held to be the only book) , it is not even the art of the 
whole of Christendom, only of a small section of our part 
of humanity. It was correct to speak of a national Jewish, 
Greek, or Egyptian art, and one may speak of a now-existing 
Chinese, Japanese, or Indian art, shared in by a whole people. 
Such art common to a whole nation existed in Russia till 

191 



192 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Peter the First's time, and existed in the rest of Europe 
until the thirteenth or fourteenth century; but since the 
upper classes of European society, having lost faith in 
the Church teaching, did not accept real Christianity 
but remained without any faith, one can no longer speak 
of an art of the Christian nations in the sense of the 
whole of art. Since the upper classes of the Christian 
nations lost faith in Church-Christianity the art of those 
upper classes has separated itself from the art of the rest of 
the people and there have been two arts the art of the 
people, and genteel art. And therefore the answer to the 
question how it could happen that humanity lived for a 
certain period without real art, replacing it by art which 
served enjoyment only, is that not the whole of humanity, nor 
even any considerable portion of it, lived without real art, 
but only the highest classes of European Christian society, 
and even they only for a comparatively short time from the 
commencement of the Renaissance down to our own day. 

The consequence of this absence of true art showed itself 
inevitably in the corruption of that class which nourished 
itself on the false art. All the confused unintelligible 
theories of art, all the false and contradictory judgments on 
art, and particularly the self-confident stagnation of our art 
in its false channels all arise, from the assertion, which has 
come into common use and is accepted as an unquestioned 
truth but is yet amazingly and palpably false, the assertion 
namely that the art of our upper classes * is the whole of 
art: the true, the only, the universal art. And although 
this assertion (which is precisely similar to the assertion made 
by religious people of the various Churches, who consider 
that theirs is the only true religion) is quite arbitrary and 

1 The contrast made is between the classes and the masses : between those who 
do not and those who do earn their bread by productive manual labour ; the middle 
classes being taken as an offshoot of the upper classes. A. M. 



WHAT IS ART? 193 

obviously unjust, yet it is calmly repeated by all the people 
of our circle with full faith in its infallibility. 

The art we have is the whole of art, the real, the only 
art, and yet two-thirds of the human race (all the peoples 
of Asia and Africa) live and die knowing nothing of this 
sole and supreme art. And even in our Christian society 
hardly one per cent, of the people make use of this art which 
we speak of as being the whole of art; the remaining ninety- 
nine per cent, live and die, generation after generation, 
crushed by toil and never tasting this art, which moreover 
is of such a nature that if they could get it they would not 
understand anything of it. We, according to the current 
esthetic theory, acknowledge art either as one of the highest 
manifestations of the Idea, God, Beauty, or as the highest 
spiritual enjoyment; furthermore we hold that all people 
have equal rights, if not to material at any rate to spiritual 
well-being; and yet ninety-nine per cent, of our European 
population live and die, generation after generation, crushed 
by toil, much of which toil is necessary for the production of 
our art which they never use, and we in face of this, calmly 
assert that the art which we produce is the real, true, only 
art all of art ! 

To the remark that if our art is the true art everyone 
should have the benfit of it, the usual reply is that if every- 
body at present does not make use of existing art, the fault 
lies not in the art but in the false organisation of society; 
that one can imagine to oneself in the future a state of things 
in which physical labour will be partly superseded by 
machinery, partly lightened by its just distribution, and that 
labour for the production of art will be taken in turns: that 
there is no need for some people always to sit below the 
stage moving the decorations, winding up the machinery, 
working at the piano or French horn, and setting type and 
printing books, but that the people who do all this work 



A 



194 TOLSTOY ON ART 

might be engaged only a few hours per day and in their 
leisure time might enjoy all the blessings of art. 

That is what the defenders of our exclusive art say. But 
I think they do not themselves believe it. They cannot help 
knowing that fine art can arise only on the slavery of the 
masses of the people, and can continue only as long as that 
slavery lasts, and they cannot help knowing that only under 
conditions of intense hardship for the workers can specialists 
writers, musicians, dancers, and actors arrive at that fine 
degree of perfection to which they do attain, or produce their 
refined works of art, and that only under the same conditions 
can there be a fine public to appreciate such productions. 
Free the slaves of capital, and it will be impossible to pro- 
duce such refined art. 

But even were we to admit the inadmissible, and say that 
means may be found by which art (that art which is con- 
sidered to be art among us) may be made accessible to the 
whole people, another consideration presents itself showing 
that fashionable art cannot be the whole of art, namely the 
fact that it is completely unintelligible to the people. For- 
merly men wrote poems in Latin, but now their artistic pro- 
ductions are as unintelligible to the common folk as if they 
were written in Sanskrit. The usual reply to this is, that if 
the people do not now understand this art of ours it only 
proves that they are undeveloped, and that this has been so at 
each fresh step forward made by art. It has never been un- 
derstood at first, but afterwards people have become 
accustomed to it. 

It will be the same with our present art; it will be under- 
stood when everybody is as well educated as are we the 
people of the upper classes who produce it, say the defenders 
of our art. But this assertion is evidently even more untrue 
than the former, for we know that the majority of the pro- 
ductions of the art of the upper classes, such as various odes, 




WHAT IS ART? 195 

poems, dramas, cantatas, pastorals, pictures, and so forth, 
which delighted people of the upper classes when they were 
produced, never were afterwards either understood or valued 
by the great masses of mankind, but have remained, what 
they were at first, a mere pastime for the rich people of their 
time, for whom alone they ever were of any importance. It 
is also often urged in proof of the assertion that the people 
will some day understand our art, that some productions of 
so-called classical poetry, music, or painting which formerly 
did not please the masses, do now that they have been offered 
to them from all sides begin to please these same masses; 
but this only shows that the crowd, especially the half-spoilt 
town crowd, can easily (its taste having been perverted) be 
accustomed to any sort of art. Moreover this art is not 
produced by these masses, nor even chosen by them, but 
is energetically thrust upon them in those public places in 
which art is accessible to the people. For the great majority 
of working people our art, besides being inaccessible on 
account of its costliness, is strange in its very nature, 
transmitting as it does the feelings of people far removed 
from those conditions of laborious life which are natural to 
the great body of humanity. That which is enjoyment to 
a man of the rich classes is incomprehensible, as a pleasure, 
to a working man, and evokes in him either no feeling at 
all or a feeling quite contrary to that which it evokes in an 
idle and satiated man. Such feelings as form the chief 
subjects of present-day art say, for instance, honour, 1 
patriotism, and amorousness evoke in a working man only 
bewilderment and contempt, or indignation. So that even 
if a possibility were given to the labouring classes to see, to 
read, and to hear, in their leisure time, all that forms the 
flower of contemporary art (as is done to some extent in 

1 Duelling was still customary among the higher circles in Russia, as in other 
Continental countries when this was written. A. M. 



196 TOLSTOY ON ART 

towns, by means of picture-galleries, popular concerts, and 
libraries), the working man (to the extent to which he is a 
labourer and has not begun to pass into the ranks of those 
perverted by idleness) would be able to make nothing of our 
fine art, and if he did understand it, what he understood 
would not elevate his soul, but would certainly in most cases 
pervert it. To thoughtful and sincere people there can 
therefore be no doubt that the art of our upper classes never 
can be the art of the whole people. But if art is an im- 
portant matter, a spiritual blessing essential for all men 
(like religion, as the devotees of art are found of saying), 
then it should be accessible to everyone. And if, as in our 
day, it is not accessible to all men, then one of two things: 
either art is not the vital matter it is represented to be, or 
that art which we call art is not the real thing. 

The dilemma is inevitable, and therefore clever and im- 
moral people avoid it by denying one side of it, namely, 
denying that the common people have a right to art. These 
people simply and boldly speak out and say (what goes to 
the heart of the matter) that the participators in and utilisers 
of what in their esteem is highly beautiful art, that is, art 
furnishing the greatest enjoyment, can only be schbne Geister, 
the elect, as the romanticists called them, the U ebermenschen, 
as they are called by the followers of Nietzsche; the vulgar 
herd which remains, incapable of experiencing these pleas- 
ures, must serve the exalted pleasures of this superior breed 
of people. The people who express these views at least do 
not pretend, and do not try to combine the incombinable, but 
frankly admit what is the case, that our art is an art of the 
upper classes only. So in reality art has been, and is, under- 
stood by everyone engaged on it in our society. 



CHAPTER IX 

The perversion of our art. It has lost its natural subject-matter, Has no 
flow of fresh feeling. Transmits chiefly three base emotions. 

The unbelief of the upper classes of the European world 
had this effect, that instead of an artistic activity aiming at 
transmitting the highest feelings to which humanity has at- 
tained, those flowing from religious perception, we have 
an activity which aims at affording the greatest enjoyment 
to a certain class of society. And of all the immense domain 
of art that part has been fenced off, and is alone called art, 
which affords enjoyment to the people of this particular 
circle. 

Apart from the moral effects on European society of such 
a selection, out of the whole sphere of art, of what did not de- 
serve such a valuation, and the acknowledgment of it as 
important, this perversion of art has weakened art itself 
and well-nigh destroyed it. The first great result was that 
art was deprived of the infinite, varied, and profound re- i 
ligious subject-matter proper to it. The second result was 
that, having only a small circle of people in view, it lost its 
beauty of form and became affected and obscure; and the * 
third and chief result was that it ceased to be natural or even 
sincere, and became thoroughly artificial and brain-spun. 

The first result the impoverishment of subject-matter 
followed because only that is a true work of art which trans- 
mits fresh feelings not before experienced by man. As 
thought-product is only then real thought-product when it 
transmits new conceptions and thoughts and does not merely 

repeat what was known before, so also an art-product is only 

197 



198 TOLSTOY ON ART 

then a genuine art-product when it brings a new feeling 
(however insignificant) into the current of human life. This 
explains why children and youths are so strongly impressed 
by those works of art which first transmit to them feelings 
they had not before experienced. 

The same powerful impression is made on people by feel- 
ings which are quite new and have never before been 
expressed by man. And it is the source from which such 
feelings flow that the art of the upper classes has deprived 
itself of by estimating feelings, not in conformity with re- 
ligious perception but according to the degree of enjoyment 
they afford. There is nothing older and more hackneyed 
than enjoyment, and there is nothing fresher than the feel- 
ings springing from the religious consciousness of each age. 
It could not be otherwise: man's enjoyment has limits estab- 
lished by his nature, but the movement forward of humanity, 
which expresses itself in religious consciousness, has no limits. 
At every forward step taken by humanity and such steps 
are taken in consequence of the greater and greater elucida- 
tion of religious perception men experience new and fresh 
feelings. And therefore only on the basis of religious percep- 
tion (which shows the highest level of life-comprehension 
reached by the men of a certain period) can fresh emotion, 
never before felt by man, arise. From the religious percep- 
tion of the ancient Greeks flowed the really new, important, 
and endlessly varied feelings expressed by Homer and the 
tragic writers. It was the same among the Jews, who at- 
tained the religious conception of a single God, from that 
perception flowed all those new and important emotions ex- 
pressed by the prophets. It was the same for the poets of the 
Middle Ages, who, if they believed in a heavenly hierarchy, 
believed also in the Catholic commune; and it is the same 
for a man of to-day who has grasped the religious conception 
of true Christianity the brotherhood of man. 



WHAT IS ART? 199 

The variety of fresh feelings flowing from religious per- 
ception is endless, and they are all new, for religious per- 
ception is nothing else than the first indication of that which 
is coming into existence, namely, a new relation of man to < 
the world around him. But the feelings flowing from the 
desire for enjoyment are on the contrary not only limited, 
but were long ago experienced and expressed. And therefore 
the lack of belief of the upper classes of Europe has left them 
with an art fed on the poorest subject-matter. 

The impoverishment of the subject-matter of upper-class 
art was further increased by the fact that, ceasing to be 
religious, it ceased also to be popular, and this again dimin- 
ished the range of feelings which it transmitted. For the 
range of feelings experienced by the powerful and the rich, 
who have no experience of labour for the support of life, 
is far poorer, more limited, and more insignificant, than the 
range of feelings natural to working people. 

People of our circle, estheticians, usually think and say 
just the contrary of this. I remember how Goncharev the 
author, a very clever and educated man but a thorough towns- 
man and an esthetician, said to me that after Turgenev's 
Sportsman's Notebook there was nothing left to write about 
in peasant life. It was all used up. The life of working 
people seemed to him so simple that Turgenev's peasant 
stories had used up all there was to describe. The life of 
our wealthy people, with their love affairs and dissatisfac- 
tion with themselves, seemed to him full of inexhaustible 
subject-matter. One hero kissed his lady on the palm of 
her hand, another on her elbow, and a third somewhere else. 
One man is discontented through idleness, and another because 
people don't love him. And Goncharev thought that in this 
sphere there is no end of variety. And this opinion that 
the life of working people is poor in subject-matter, but that 
our life, the life of the idle, is full of interest is shared by 



200 TOLSTOY ON ART 

very many people in our society. The life of a labouring 
man, with its endlessly varied forms of labour and the dan- 
gers connected with labour on sea and underground; his mi- 
grations, his intercourse with his employers, overseers, and 
companions, and with men of other religions and other na- 
tionalities: his struggles with nature and with wild beasts, 
his association with domestic animals, his work in the forest, 
on the steppe, in the field, the garden, the orchard: his inter- 
course with wife and children, not only as with people near 
and dear to him but as with co-workers and helpers in labour, 
replacing him in time of need: his concern in all economic 
questions, not as matters of display or discussion but as prob- 
lems of life for himself and his family: his pride in self- 
suppression and service of others, his pleasures of refresh- 
ment; and the permeation of all these interests by a religious 
re-action towards the facts : all this to us, who have not these 
interests and possess no religious perception, seems monot- 
onous in comparison with those small enjoyments and 
insignificant cares of our life, a life, not of labour nor of 
production, but of consumption and destruction of that which 
others have produced for us. We think the feelings exper- 
ienced by people of our day and our class are very important 
and varied ; but in reality almost all the feelings of people of 
our class amount to but three very insignificant and simple 
> feelings the feeling of pride, the feeling of sexual desire, 
and the feeling of weariness of life. These three feelings, 
with their off-shoots, form almost the only subject-matter of 
the art of the rich classes. 

At first, at the very beginning of the separation of the 
exclusive art of the upper classes from universal art, its chief 
subject-matter was the feeling of pride. It was so at the time 
of the Renaissance and after it, when the chief subject of 
works of art was the laudation of the strong popes, kings, 
and dukes. Odes and madrigals were written in their honour, 



WHAT IS ART? 201 

they were extolled in cantatas and hymns, and their por- 
traits were painted, and their statues carved, in various 
adulatory ways. 

Next, the element of sexual desire began more and more 
to enter into art, and (with very few exceptions, and in novels 
and dramas almost without exception) it has now become 
an essential feature of every art product of the wealthy 
classes. 

The third feeling transmitted by the art of the rich that 
of discontent with life appeared yet later in modern art. 
This feeling, which at the commencement of the present cen- 
tury was expressed only by exceptional men: by Byron, by 
Leopardi, and afterwards by Heine, has latterly become fash- 
ionable and is expressed by most ordinary and empty people. 
Most justly does the French critic Doumic characterise the 
works of the new writers: . . . c'est la lassitude de vivre 
le mepris de Vepoque presente, le regret d'un autre temps 
apergu a tr avers V illusion de Vart, le gout du paradoxe, le 
besoin de se singulariser, une aspiration de raffines vers la 
simplicite, V adoration enfantine du merveilleux, la seduction 
maladive de la reverie, Vebranlement des nerfs, surtout Vap- 
pel exaspere de la sensualite (Les Jeunes, Rene Doumic). 1 
And, as a matter of fact, of these three feelings it is sensuality, 
the lowest (accessible not only to all men but even to all 
animals), which forms the chief subject-matter of works of 
art of recent times. 

From Boccaccio to Marcel Prevost, all novels, poems, and 
verses invariably transmit the feeling of sexual love in its 
different forms. Adultery is not only the favourite, but 
almost the only theme of all the novels. A performance is 

1 ... it is weariness of life, contempt for the present epoch, regret for 
another age seen through the illusion of art, a taste for paradox, a desire to be 
singular, a sentimental aspiration towards simplicity, an infantile adoration of the 
marvellous, a sickly tendency towards reverie, a shattered condition of nerves, 
and, above all, the exasperated demand of sensuality. 



202 TOLSTOY ON ART 

not a performance unless, under some pretext, women appear 
with naked busts and limbs. Songs and romances all are 
expressions of lust idealised in various degrees. 

A majority of the pictures by French artists represent 
female nakedness in various forms. In recent French litera- 
ture there is hardly a page or a poem in which nakedness is 
not described, and in which, relevantly or irrelevantly, their 
favourite thought and word nu is not repeated a couple of 
times. There is a certain writer, Remy de Gourment, who 
gets printed and is considered talented. To obtain an idea of 
the new writers, I read his novel, Les Chevaux de Diomede. 
It is a consecutive and detailed account of the sexual con- 
nections some gentleman had with various women. Every 
page contains lust-kindling descriptions. It is the same in 
Pierre Louys' book, Aphrodite, which met with success; it is 
the same in a book I lately chanced upon, Huysmans' Certains, 
and with but few exceptions it is the same in all French 
novels. They are all the productions of people suffering from 
erotic mania. And these people are evidently convinced that 
as their whole life, in consequence of their diseased condition, 
is concentrated on amplifying various sexual abominations, 
therefore the life of all the world is similarly concentrated. 
And these people, suffering from erotic mania, are imitated 
throughout the whole artistic world of Europe and America. 

Thus, in consequence of the lack of belief and the ex- 
ceptional manner of life of the wealthy classes, the art of 
these classes became impoverished in its subject-matter and 
has sunk to the transmission of the feelings of pride, dis- 
content with life, and above all of sexual desire. 



CHAPTER X 

Loss of comprehensibility . Decadent art. Recent French art. Have we a 
right to say it is bad? The highest art has always been comprehensible to 
normal people. What jails to infect normal people is not art. 

In consequence of their unbelief, the art of the upper classes 
became poor in subject-matter. But besides that, becoming 
continually more and more exclusive it became at the same 
time continually more and more involved affected and 
obscure. 

When a universal artist (such as were some of the Greek 
artists or the Jewish prophets) composed his work he naturally 
strove to say what he had to say in such a way that his 
production should be intelligible to all men. But when an 
artist composed for a small circle of people placed in excep- 
tional conditions, or even for a single individual and his 
courtiers for popes, cardinals, kings, dukes, queens, or for a 
king's mistress he naturally only aimed at influencing these 
people, who were well known to him and lived in excep- 
tional conditions familiar to him. And this was an easier 
task, and the artist was involuntarily drawn to express him- 
self by allusions comprehensible only to the initiated and 
obscure to everyone else. In the first place, more could 
be said in this way; and secondly, there is (for the initiated) 
even a certain charm in the cloudiness of such a manner of 
expression. This method, which showed itself both in eu- 
phuism and in mythological and historical allusions, came 
more and more into use, until it apparently at last reached 
its utmost limits in the so-called art of the Decadents. It 
has come, finally, to this: that not only are haziness, myste- 
riousness, obscurity, and exclusiveness (shutting out the 

203 



204 TOLSTOY ON ART 

masses) elevated to the rank of a merit and a condition of 
poetic art, but even incorrectness, indefiniteness, and lack of 
eloquence, are held in esteem. 

Theophile Gautier, in his preface to the celebrated Fleurs 
du Mai, says that Baudelaire as far as possible banished 
from poetry eloquence, passion, and truth too strictly 
copied ("l' eloquence, la passion, et la verite calquee trop 
exactement") . 

And Baudelaire not only did this, but maintained this 
thesis in his verses, and yet more strikingly in the prose 
of his Petits Poemes en Prose, the meanings of which have 
to be guessed like a rebus and remain for the most part 
undiscovered. 

The poet Verlaine (who followed next after Baudelaire, 
and was also esteemed great) even wrote an Art poetique, 
in which he advises this style of composition: 

De la musique avant toute chose, 
Et pour cela prefere V Impair 
Plus vague et plus soluble dans Vair, 
Sans rien en lui qui pese ou qui pose. 



> II faut aussi que tu n'ailles point 

Choisir tes mots sans quelque meprise: 
Rien de plus cher que la chanson grise 
Ou VIndecis au Precis se joint. 



And again:- 



De la musique encore et toujours! 
Que ton vers soit la chose envolee 
Qu'on sent qui fuit d'une dme en allee 
Vers d'autres cieux a d'autres amours. 

Que ton vers soit la bonne aventure 
sparse au vent crispe du matin, 



WHAT IS ART? 205 

Qui va fleurant la menthe et le thym . . . 
Et tout le reste est litter ature. 1 

After these two comes Mallarme, considered the most im- 
portant of the young poets, and he plainly says that the 
charm of poetry lies in our having to guess its meaning 
that in poetry there should always be a puzzle: 

Je pense qu'il faut qu'il n'y ait qu 'allusion, says he. 
La contemplation des objets, Vintage s'envolant des reveries 
suscitees par eux, sont le chant: les Parnassiens, eux, 
prennent la chose entierement et la montrent; par la Us 
manquent de mystere; Us retirent aux esprits cette joie 
delicieuse de croire qu'ils creent. Nommer un objet, c'est 
supprimer les trois quarts de la jouissance du poeme, qui 
est faite du bonheur de deviner peu a peu: le suggerer, 
voila le reve. C'est le parfait usage de ce mystere qui 
constitue le symbole: evoquer petit a petit un objet pour 
montrer un etat d'dme, ou, inversement, choisir un objet et 

1 Music, music before all things ! 
The eccentric still prefer, 
Vague in air, and nothing weighty, 
Soluble. Yet do not err, 

Choosing words; still do it lightly, 
Do it with contemptuous mind: 
Dearest are grey songs where mingle 
The Defined and Undefined! 



Music always, now and ever! 
Be thy verse the thing that flies 
From a soul that's gone, escaping, 
Gone to other loves and skies. 

Gone to other loves and regions, 
Following fortunes that allure, 
Mint and thyme and morning crispness 
All the rest's mere literature. 



206 TOLSTOY ON ART 

en degager un Stat d'dme, par une shrie de dechiffrements. 

. . . Si un etre d'une intelligence moyenne, et d'une 
preparation litteraire insuffisante, ouvre par hasard un livre 
ainsi fait et pretend en jouir, il y a malentendu, il faut 
remettre les choses a leur place. II doit y avoir toujours 
enigme en poesie, et c'est le but de la litterature, il riy en 
a pas d 'autre, d'evoquer les objets. Enquete sur revolu- 
tion litteraire, Jules Huret, pp. 60, 61. 1 

Thus is obscurity elevated into a dogma among the new 
poets. As the French critic Doumic (who has not yet ac- 
cepted the dogma) quite correctly says: 

II serait temps aussi oVen finir avec cette fameuse "theorie 
de I'obscurite" que la nouvelle Scale a SlevSe, en effet a la 
hauteur d'un dogme. Les Jeunes, etudes et portraits, 
Rene Doumic. 2 

But it is not only French writers who think thus. The 
poets of all other countries think and act in the same way: 
German, and Scandinavian, and Italian, and Russian, and 
English. So also do the artists of the new period in all 
branches of art: in painting, in sculpture, and in music. 
Relying on Nietzsche and Wagner, the artists of the new 
age conclude that it is unnecessary for them to be intelli- 

1 1 think there should be nothing but allusions. The contemplation of objects, 
the flying image of reveries evoked by them, make the song. The Parnassians state 
the thing completely, and show it, and thereby lack mystery; they deprive the mind 
of that delicious joy of imagining that it creates. To name an object is to take 
away three-fourths of the enjoyment of the poem, which consists in the happiness 
of guessing little by little: to suggest it, that is the dream. It is the perfect use 
of this mystery that constitutes the symbol: little by little to evoke an object in 
order to show a state of the soul; or inversely, to choose an object, and from 
it to disengage a state of the soul by a series of decipherings. 

... If a being of mediocre intelligence and insufficient literary preparation 
chances to open a book made in this way and pretends to enjoy it, there is a mis- 
understanding things must be returned to their places. There should always be 
an enigma in poetry, and the aim of literature it has no other is to evoke 
objects. 

2 It were time also to have done with this famous " theory of obscurity," which 
the new school has practically raised to the height of a dogma. 



WHAT IS ART? 207 

gible to the vulgar crowd; it is enough for them to evoke 
poetic emotion in 'the finest nurtured,' to borrow a phrase 
from an English esthetician. 

In order that what I am saying may not seem to be mere 
assertion, I will quote at least a few examples from the 
French poets who have led this movement. The name of 
these poets is legion. I have taken French writers because 
they, more decidedly than any others, indicate the new di- 
rection of art and are imitated by most European writers. 

Besides those whose names are already considered famous, 
such as Baudelaire and Verlaine, here are the names of a 
few of them: Jean Moreas, Charles Morice, Henri de 
Regnier, Charles Vignier, Adrien Remade, Rene Ghil, Maur- 
ice Maeterlinck, G. Albert Aurier, Remy de Gourm&it, Saint- 
Pol-Roux-le-Magnifique, Georges Rodenbach, le comte Robert 
de Montesquiou-Fezensac. These are Symbolists and De- 
cadents. Next we have the "Magi": Josephin Peladan, 
Paul Adam, Jules Bois, M. Papus, and others. 

Besides these there are yet one hundred and forty-one 
others whom Doumic mentions in the book referred to above. 

Here are some examples from the work of those of them 
who are considered to be the best, beginning with that most 
celebrated man, acknowledged to be a great artist worthy 
of a monument Baudelaire. This is a poem from his cele- 
brated Fleurs du mat: 



No. XXIV 

Je f adore a Vegal de la voute nocturne, 

O vase de tristesse, 6 grande taciturne, 

Et faime d'autant plus, belle, que tu me fuis, 

Et que tu me parais, ornement de mes nuits, 

Plus ironiquement accumuler les lieues 

Qui separent mes bras des immensites bleues. 



208 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Je m'avance a I'attaque, et je grimpe aux assauts, 
Comme apres un cadavre un ch&ur de vermisseaux, 
Et je cherts, 6 bete implacable et cruelle, 
Jusqu'd. cette froideur par ou tu m'es plus belle! l 

And this is another by the same writer: 

No. XXXVI 
DUELLUM 

Deux guerriers ont couru Vun sur V autre; leurs artnes 
Out eclabousse I'air de lueurs et de sang. 
Ces jeux, ces cliquetis du fer sont les vacarmes 
D'une jeunesse en proie a V amour vagissant. 



Les glaives sont brisesf comme notre jeunesse, 
Ma cheref Mais les dents, les ongles aceres, 
Vengent bientot Vepee et la dague traxtresse. 
O fureur des cozurs murs par V amour ulceres! 



Dans le ravin hante des chats-pards et des onces 
Nos heros, s'etreignant mechamment, ont roule, 
Et leur peau fleurira Varidite des ronces. 
Ce gouffre, c'est V en fer, de nos amis peuplef 
Roulons-y sans remords, amazone inhumaine, 
A fin oVeterniser Vardeur de notre haine! 2 

To be exact, I should mention that the collection contains 
verses less comprehensible than these, but not one poem which 
is plain and can be understood without a certain effort 
an effort seldom rewarded, for the feelings which the poet 
transmits are evil and very low ones. And these feelings 
are always, and purposely, expressed by him with eccentricity 
and lack of clearness. This premeditated obscurity is espe- 
cially noticeable in his prose, where the author could speak 
clearly if he wanted to. 

1 For translation, see Appendix I. 

2 For translation, see Appendix I. 



WHAT IS ART? 209 

Take, for instance, the first piece from his Petits poemes 
en prose: 

ViTRANGER 

Qui aimes-tu le mieux, homme enigmatique, dis? ton phe, ta mire, 
ta soeur, ou ton frfre? 

Je n'ai ni pere, ni mfre, ni soeur, ni frere. 

Tes amis? 

Vous vous servez la d'une parole dont le sens m'est reste jusqu'a ce 
jour inconnu. 

Ta patrie? 

J'ignore sous quelle latitude elle est situee. 

La beaute? 

Je Vaimerais volontiers, deesse et immortelle. 

L'or? 

Je le hais, comme vous haissez Dieu. 

Et qu' aimes-tu done, extraordinaire Stranger? 

J'aime les nuages . . . les nuages qui passent . . . la bas, . . . les 
merveilleux nuages! x 

The piece called La Soupe et les nuages is probably 
intended to express the unintelligibility of the poet even to 
her whom he loves. This is the piece in question: 

Ma petite folle bien-aimee me donnait a diner, et par la 
fenetre ouverte de la salle a manger je contemplais les 
mouvantes architectures que Dieu fait avec les vapeurs, les 
merveilleuses constructions de I'impalpable. Et je me disais, 
a tr avers ma contemplation: u Toutes ces fantasmagories 
sont presque aussi belles que les yeux de ma belle bten-aimee, 
la petite folle monstrueuse aux yeux verts." 

Et tout-a-coup je regus un violent coup de poing dans le' 
dos, et j'entendis une voix rauque et charmante, une voix 
hysterique et comme enrouee par V eau-de-vie, la voix de ma 
chere petite bien-aimee, qui me dis ait, "Allez-vous bientot 

1 For translation, see Appendix I, 



210 TOLSTOY ON ART 



manger votre soupe, s .... b .... de marchand de 
nuages?" 1 

However artificial these two pieces may be, it is still pos- 
sible with some effort to guess at what the author meant 
them to express, but some of the pieces are absolutely incom- 
prehensible at least to me. Le Galant Tireur is a piece I 
was quite unable to understand. 



LE GALANT TIREUR 

Comme la voiture traversait le bois, il la fit arreter dans 
le voisinage d'un tir, disant qu'il lui serait agreable de titer 
quelques balles pour tuer le Temps. Tuer ce monstre-la, 
riest-ce pas V occupation la plus ordinaire et la plus legitime 
de chacun? Et il offrit galamment la main a sa chere, 
delicieuse et execrable femme, a cette mysterieuse femme a 
laquelle il doit tant de plaisirs, tant de douleurs, et peut-etre 
aussi une grande partie de son genie. 

Plusieurs balles frapperent loin du but propose; Vune 
d'elles s'enfonga mime dans le plafond; et comme la char- 
mante creature riait follement, se moquant de la maladresse 
de son epoux, celui-ci se tourna brusquement vers elle, et lui 
dit: "Observez cette poupee, la-bas, a droite, qui porte le nez 
en Vair et qui a la mine si hautaine. Eh bienl cher ange, 
je me figure que c'est vous." Et il ferma les yeux et il lacha 
la detente. La poupee jut nettement decapitee. 

Alors s'inclinant vers sa chlre, sa delicieuse, son execrable 
femme, son inevitable et impitoyable Muse, et lui baisant 
respectueusement la main, il a j 'out a: "Ah! mon cher ange, 
combien je vous remercie de mon adresse! n 2 

The productions of another celebrity, Verlaine, are not 

1 For translation, see Appendix I. 

2 For translation, see Appendix I. 




WHAT IS ART? 211 

less affected and unintelligible. This, for instance, is the 
first poem in the section called Ariettes oubliees: 

"Le vent dans la plaine 
Suspend son haleine." Favart. 

Cest Vextase langoureuse, 
C'est la fatigue amoureuse, 
Cest tous les frissons des bois 
Parmi Vetreinte des brises, 
. C'est, vers les ramures grises, 
Le choeur des petit es voix. 

O le frele et frais murmuref 
Cela gazouille et susurre, 
Cela ressemble au cri doux 
Que Vherbe agitee expire . . . 
Tu dirais, sous Veau qui vire, 
Le roulis sourd des cailloux. 

Cette ame qui se lamente 
En cette plainte dormante, 
C'est la notre, n'est-ce pas? 
La mienne, dis, et la tienne, 
Dont s 'exhale V humble antienne 
Par ce tiede soir, tout bas? x 

What "choeur des petites voix," and what "cri doux que 
Vherbe agitee expire" and what it all means, remains al- 
together unintelligible to me. 

And here is another Ariette: 



VIII. 

Dans V interminable 
Ennui de la plaine, 
La neige incertaine 
Luit comme du sable. 

1 For translation, see Appendix I. 



212 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Le ciel est de cuivre, 
Sans lueur aucune. 
On croirait voir vivre 
Et mourir la lune. 

Comme des nuees 
Flottent gris les chenes 
Des forets prochaines 
Parmi les buees. 

Le ciel est de cuivre, 
Sans lueur aucune. 
On croirait voir vivre 
Et mourir la lune. 

Corneille poussive 
Et vous, les loups maigres, 
Par ces bises aigres, 
Quoi done vous arrive? 

Dans V interminable 
Ennui de la plaine, 
La neige incertaine 
Luit comme du sable} 

How does the moon seem to live and die in a copper heaven? 
And how can snow shine like sand? The whole thing is 
not merely unintelligible, but under pretence of conveying 
an impression it passes off a string of incorrect comparisons 
and words. 

Besides these artificial and obscure poems there are others 
which are intelligible, but make up for it by being altogether 
bad both in form and in content. Such are all the poems 
under the heading La Sagesse. The chief place in these 
verses is occupied by a very poor expression of the most 
commonplace Roman Catholic and patriotic sentiments. For 
instance, one meets with verses such as this: 

1 For translation, see Appendix I. 



WHAT IS ART? 213 

Je ne veux plus penser qu' a ma mere Marie, 

Sihge de la sagesse et source de pardons, 

Mere de France aussi DE QUI NOUS ATTENDONS 

INEBRANLABLEMENT V HON N EUR DE LA PATRIE. 1 

Before citing examples from other poets, I must pause to 
note the amazing celebrity of these two versifiers, Baudelaire 
and Verlaine, who are now accepted as being great poets. 
How the French, who had Chenier, Musset, Lamartine, and 
above all Hugo, and among whom quite recently flourished > 
the so-called Parnassians: Leconte de Lisle, Sully-Prud- 
homme, etc. could attribute such importance to these two 
versifiers who were far from skilful in form and most con-^ 
temptible and commonplace in subject-matter, is to me incom- 
prehensible. The life-conception of one of them, Baudelaire, 
consisted in elevating gross egotism into a theory and re- 
placing morality by a cloudy conception of beauty espe- 
cially artificial beauty. Baudelaire had a preference, which 
he expressed, for a woman's face painted rather than in its 
natural colour, and for metal trees and a theatrical imitation 
of water rather than real trees and real water. 

The life-conception of the other, Verlaine, consisted in 
weak profligacy, in confession of moral impotence, and, as 
an antidote to that impotence, in the grossest Roman Catholic 
idolatry. Both moreover were quite lacking in naivete, sin- 
cerity, and simplicity, and both overflowed with artificiality, 
forced originality, and self-assurance. So that in their least 
bad productions one sees more of M. Baudelaire or M. Ver- 
laine than of what they were describing. But these two 
indifferent versifiers form a school, and lead hundreds of 
followers after them. 

1 1 do not wish to think any more, except about my mother Mary, 
Seat of wisdom and source of pardon, 
Also Mother of France, from whom we 
Steadfastly expect the honour of our country. 



214 TOLSTOY ON ART 

There is only one explanation of this fact: it is that the 
art of the society in which these versifiers lived is not a 
serious, important matter of life, but a mere amusement. 
And all amusements grow wearisome by repetition. And 
in order to make wearisome amusement again tolerable it 
is necessary to find some means to freshen it up. When, 
at cards, ombre grows stale, whist is introduced; when whist 
grows stale, ecarte is substituted; when ecarte grows stale, 
some other novelty is invented, and so on. The substance 
of the matter remains the same, only its form is changed. 
It is the same with this kind of art. The subject-matter of 
the art of the upper classes growing continually more and 
more limited it has come at last to this, that to the artists of 
these exclusive classes it seems as if everything has already 
been said and that to find anything new to say is impossible. 
And therefore to freshen up this art they look out for fresh 
forms. 

Baudelaire and Verlaine invent such a new form, furbish 
it up moreover with hitherto unused pornographic details, 
and the critics and the public of the upper classes hail 
them as great writers. 

This is the only explanation of the success not of Baude- 
laire and Verlaine only, but of all the Decadents. 

For instance, there are poems by Mallarme and Maeterlinck 
which have no meaning, and yet, for all that or perhaps on 
that very account, are printed by tens of thousands, not 
only in various publications but even in collections of the 
best works of the younger poets. 

This, for example, is a sonnet by Mallarme: 

A la nue accablante tu 
Basse de basalte et de laves 
A meme les echos esclaves 
Par une trompe sans vertu. 



WHAT IS ART? 215 

Quel sepulcral naufrage (tu 
Le soir, ecume, mats y baves) 
Supreme une entre les epaves 
Abolit le mat devetu. 

Ou cela que furibond faute 

De quelque perdition haute 

Tout I'abime vain eploye 

Dans le si blanc cheveu qui traxne 

Avarement aura noye 

Le flanc enfant d'une sirene. 1 

("Pan," 1895, No. 1.) 

This poem is not exceptional in its incomprehensibility. 
I have read several other poems by Mallarmej and they also 
had no meaning whatever. I give a sample of his prose in 
Appendix II. There is a whole volume of this prose, called 
Divagations. It is impossible to understand any of it. And 
that is evidently what the author intended. 

And here is a song by Maeterlinck, another celebrated 
author of to-day: 

Quand il est sorti, 
(J'entendis la porte) 
Quand il est sorti 
Elle avait souri . . . 

Mais quand il rentra 
(J'entendis la lampe) 
Mais quand il rentra 
Une autre etait la . . . 

Et fat vu la mort, 
(J'entendis son ante) 
Et j'ai vu la mort 
Qui V attend encore . . . 

x This sonnet seems too unintelligible for translation. Trans. 



216 TOLSTOY ON ART 

On est venu dire, 
(Mon enfant, j'ai peur) 
On est venu dire 
Qu'il allait partir . . . 

Ma lampe allumee, 
(Mon enfant, j'ai peur) 
Ma lampe allumee 
Me suis approchee . . . 

A la premiere porte, 
(Mon enfant, j'ai peur) 
A la premiere porte, 
La flamme a tremble . . . 

A la seconde porte, 
(Mon enfant, j'ai peur) 
A la seconde porte, 
La flamme a parle . . . 

A la troisieme porte, 
(Mon enfant, j'ai peur) 
A la troisieme porte, 
La lumiere est morte . . . 

Et s'il revenait un jour, 
Que faut-il lui dire? 
Dites-lui qu'on I'attendit 
Jusqu'a s'en mourir . . . 

Et s'il m'interroge encore 
Sans me reconnoitre? 
Parlez-lui comme une sozur. 
II souffre peut-etre . . . 

Et s'il demande ou vous etes 
Que faut-il repondre? 
Donnez-lui mon anneau d'or 
Sans rien lui repondre. . . 

Et s'il veut savoir pourquoi 
La salle est deserte? 






WHAT IS ART? 217 

Montrez-lui la lampe eteinte 
Et la porte ouverte . . . 



Et s'il m'interroge alors 
Sur la derniere heure? 
Dites lui que fax souri 
De peur qu'il ne pleure 



("Pan," 1895, No. 2.) 



Who went out ? Who came in ? Who is speaking ? Who 
died? 

I beg the reader to take the trouble to read through the 
samples I cite in Appendix III of the celebrated and esteemed 
young poets: Regnier, Griffin, Verhaeren, Moreas, and 
Montesquiou. It is important to do so in order to form a 
clear conception of the present position of art, and not to sup- 
pose as many do that Decadentism is an accidental and transi- 
tory phenomenon. To avoid the reproach of having selected 
the worst verses, I have copied out of each volume the poem 
which happened to stand on page 28. 

All the other productions of these poets are equally un- 
intelligible, or can only be understood with great difficulty 
and then not fully. All the productions of those hundreds 
of poets, of whom I have named a few, are the same in kind. 
And among the Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Italians, and 
us Russians, similar verses are printed. And such produc- 
tions are printed and made up into book-form, if not by the 
million then by the hundred-thousand (some of these separate 
works sell in tens of thousands). For type-setting, paging, 
printing and binding these books, millions and millions of 
working days are spent not less, I think, than went to build 
the Great Pyramid. Nor is this all. The same is going on 
in all the other arts: millions and millions of working days 

1 For translation, see Appendix I. 



218 TOLSTOY ON ART 

are being spent on the production of equally incomprehensible 
works in painting, in music, and in drama. 

Painting not only does not lag behind poetry in this matter, 
but rather outstrips it. Here is an extract from the diary 
of an amateur of art, 1 written when visiting the Paris exhi- 
bitions in 1894: 

"I was to-day at three exhibitions: the Symbolists', the Im- 
pressionists', and the Neo-Impressionists'. I looked at the 
pictures conscientiously and carefully, but again felt the same 
stupefaction and ultimate indignation. The first exhibition, 
that of Camille Pissarro, was comparatively the most com- 
prehensible, though the pictures were out of drawing, had no 
content, and the colourings were most improbable. The 
drawing was so indefinite that you were sometimes unable 
to make out which way an arm or a head was turned. The 
subject was generally, 'effets' Effet de brouillard, Effet du 
soir, Soleil couchant. There were some pictures with figures, 
but without subjects. 

"In the colouring, bright blue and bright green predomi- 
nated. And each picture had its special colour with which 
the whole picture was, as it were, splashed. For instance in 
'A Girl guarding Geese' the special colour is vert de gris, and 
dots of it were splashed about everywhere: on the face, the 
hair, the hands, and the clothes. In the same gallery 
'Durand-Ruel' were other pictures: by Puvis de Chavannes, 
Manet, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, who are all Impressionists. 
One of tjiem, whose name I could not make out, it was 
something like Redon, had painted a blue face in profile. 
On the whole face there is only this blue tone, with white- 
of-lead. Pissarro has a water-colour all done in dots. In the 
foreground is a cow entirely painted with various-coloured 
dots. The general colour cannot be distinguished, however 

x It was Tolstoy's eldest daughter, Tatiana, Mme. Sukhotin; who was herself 
a talented art-student. A. M. 



WHAT IS ART? 219 

much one stands back from, or draws near to, the picture. 
From there I went to see the Symbolists. I looked at them 
long without asking anyone for an explanation, trying to 
guess the meaning; but it is beyond human comprehension. 
One of the first things to catch my eye was a wooden haut- 
relief, wretchedly executed, representing a woman (naked) 
who with both hands is squeezing from her two breasts 
streams of blood. The blood flows down, becoming lilac in 
colour. Her hair first descends and then rises again and 
turns into trees. The figure is all coloured yellow, and the 
hair is brown. 

"Next a picture: a yellow sea on which swims something 
which is neither a ship nor a heart; on the horizon is a pro- 
file with a halo and yellow hair, which changes into the sea, 
in which it is lost. Some of the painters lay on their colours 
so thickly that the effect is something between painting and 
sculpture. A third exhibit was even less comprehensible: a 
man's profile; before him a flame and black stripes leeches, 
as I was afterwards told. At last I asked a gentleman who 
was there what it meant, and he explained to me that the 
haut-relief was a symbol, and represented 'La Terre.' The 
heart swimming in a yellow sea was 'Illusion perdue,' and 
the gentleman with the leeches was 'Le Mai.' There were 
also some Impressionist pictures: elementary profiles, hold- 
ing some sort of flowers in their hands; in monotone, out of 
drawing, and either quite blurred or else marked out with 
wide black outlines." 

This was in 1894; the same tendency is now even more 
strongly defined, and we have Bocklin; Stuck, Klinger, 
Sasha Schneider, and others. 

The same thing is taking place in the drama. The play- 
writers give us an architect who, for some reason, has not ful- 
filled his former high intentions, and consequently climbs on 
to the roof of a house he has erected and tumbles down head 



220 TOLSTOY ON ART 

foremost; * or an incomprehensible old woman (who exter- 
minates rats), and who, for an unintelligible reason, takes a 
poetic child to the sea and there drowns him ; 2 or some blind 
men, who, sitting on the seashore, for some reason always 
repeat one and the same thing; 3 or a bell of some kind, which 
flies into a lake and there rings. 4 

And the same is happening in music in that art which 
more than any other one would have thought should be in- 
telligible to everybody. 

An acquaintance of yours, a musician of repute, sits down 
to the piano and plays you what he says is a new composition 
of his own or of one of the new composers. You hear the 
strange, loud sounds, and admire the gymnastic exercises 
performed by his fingers, and you see that the performer 
wishes to convey to you that the sounds he is producing 
express various poetic strivings of the soul. You see his 
intention, but no feeling whatever except weariness is trans- 
mitted to you. The execution lasts long, at least it seems very 
long to you because you do not receive any clear impression, 
and involuntarily you remember the words of Alphonse Karr, 
"Plus ga va vite, plus ga dure longtemps" 5 And it occurs 
to you that perhaps it is all a mystification ; perhaps the per- 
former is trying you just throwing his hands and fingers 
wildly about the key-board in the hope that you will fall 
into the trap and praise him, and then he will laugh and 
confess that he only wanted to see if he could hoax you. But 
when at last the piece does finish, and the perspiring and 
agitated musician rises from the piano obviously anticipating 
praise, you see that it was all done in earnest. 

The same thing takes place at all the concerts with pieces 

1 Ibsen's The Master-Builder.A. M. 

2 Ibsen's Little Eyolf.A. M. 

8 Maeterlinck's Les Aveiigles. A. M. 

4 G. Hauptmann's Die versunkenc Glocke. A. M. 

5 "The quicker it goes the longer it lasts." 



WHAT IS ART? 221 

by Liszt, Wagner, Berlioz, Brahms, and (newest of all) 
Richard Strauss, and the numberless other composers of the 
new school, who unceasingly produce opera after opera, sym- 
phony after symphony, piece after piece. 

The same is occurring in a domain in which it seemed hard 
to be unintelligible in the sphere of novels and short stories. 

Read La-Bas by Huysmans, or some of Kipling's short 
stories, or L'atinonciateur by Villiers de l'lsle Adam in his 
Contes Cruels, etc., and you will find them not only "abscons" 
(to use a word adopted by the new writers) but absolutely 
unintelligible both in form and in substance. Such, again, is 
the work by E. Morel, Terre Promise, now appearing in the 
Revue Blanche, and such are most of the new novels. The 
style is very high-flown, the feelings seem to be most elevated, 
but you can't make out what is happening, to whom it is 
happening, and where it is happening. And such is the bulk 
of the young art of our time. 

People who grew up in the first half of this century, ad- 
miring Goethe, Schiller, Musset, Hugo, Dickens, Beethoven, 
Chopin, Raphael, da Vinci, Michael Angelo, and Delaroche, 
being unable to make head or tail of this new art, simply at- 
tribute its productions to tasteless insanity, and wish to ignore 
them. But such an attitude towards this new art is quite 
unjustifiable because, in the first place, this art is spreading 
more and more, and has already conquered for itself a firm 
position in society similar to that occupied by the Ro- 
manticists in the third decade of this century; and secondly 
and chiefly because, if it is permissible to judge in this way 
of the productions of the latest form of art, called by us 
Decadent art, merely because we do not understand it, then 
remember, there are an enormous number of people all the^ 
labourers and many of the non-labouring folk who, in just 
the same way, do not comprehend those productions of art 
which we consider admirable: the verses of our favourite 



222 TOLSTOY ON ART 

artists Goethe, Schiller, and Hugo; the novels of Dickens, 
the music of Beethoven and Chopin, the pictures of Raphael, 
Michael Angelo, da Vinci, and so forth. 

If I have a right to think that great masses of people do 
not understand and do not like what I consider undoubtedly 
good because they are not sufficiently developed, then I have 
no right to deny that perhaps the reason why I cannot under- 
stand and cannot like the new productions of art is merely 
that I am still insufficiently developed to understand them. 
If I have a right to say that I, and the majority of people 
who are in sympathy with me, do not understand the pro- 
ductions of the new art simply because there is nothing in it to 
understand and because it is bad art, then with just the same 
right the still larger majority, the whole labouring mass, who 
do not understand what I consider admirable art, can say that 
what I reckon as good art is bad art and there is nothing 
(in it to understand. 

I once saw the injustice of such condemnation of the new 
art with especial 'clearness, when in my presence a certain 
poet, who writes incomprehensible verses, ridiculed incom- 
prehensible music with gay self-assurance; and shortly after- 
wards a certain musician, who composes incomprehensible 
symphonies, laughed at incomprehensible poetry with equal 
self-confidence. I have no right and no authority to con- 
demn the new art on the ground that I (a man educated 
in the first half of the century) do not understand it; I can 
only say that it is incomprehensible to me. The only ad- 
vantage the art I acknowledge has over the Decadent art 
lies in the fact that the art I recognise is comprehensible 
to a somewhat larger number of people than present-day 
art. 

The fact that I am accustomed to a certain exclusive art 
and can understand it, but am unable to understand another 
still more exclusive art, does not give me a right to con- 



r-liiAa +V-i 



WHAT IS ART? 223 



elude that my art is the real, true art, and that the other 
one, which I do not understand, is an unreal, a bad art. I 
can only conclude that art, becoming ever more and more 
exclusive, has become more and more incomprehensible to 
an ever-increasing number of people, and that, in this its 
progress towards greater and greater incomprehensibility 
(on one level of which I am standing, with the art familiar 
to me), it has reached a point where it is understood by a 
very small number of the elect, and the number of these 
chosen people is becoming ever smaller and smaller. 

As soon as ever the art of the upper classes separated 
itself from universal art, a conviction arose that art may 
be art and yet be incomprehensible to the masses. And 
as soon as this position was admitted it had inevitably to 
be admitted also that art may be intelligible only to the very 
smallest number of the elect, and eventually to two, or to one, 
of our nearest friends, or to oneself alone. Which is prac- 
tically what is being said by modern artists: "I create and (^ 
understand myself, and if anyone does not understand me 
so much the worse for him." 

The assertion that art may be good art, and at the same 
time incomprehensible to a great number of people, is ex- 
tremely unjust and its consequences are ruinous to art itself; 
but at the same time it is so common, and has so eaten into 
our conceptions, that it is impossible sufficiently to elucidate 
the whole absurdity of it. 

Nothing is more common than to hear it said of reputed 
works of art, that they are very good but very difficult to 
understand. We are quite used to such assertions, and yet 
to say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to 
the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind 
of food that it is very good but that most people can't eat it. 
The majority of men may not like rotten cheese or putrefying 
grouse, dishes esteemed by people with perverted tastes; but 



224 TOLSTOY ON ART 

bread and fruit are only good when they are such as please 
the majority of men. And it is the same with art. Per- 
verted art may not please the majority of men, but good 
art always pleases everyone. 

It is said that the very best works of art are such that 
they cannot be understood by the masses, but are accessible 
only to the elect who are prepared to understand these great 
works. But if the majority of men do not understand, the 
knowledge necessary to enable them to understand should 
be taught and explained to them. But it turns out that 
there is no such knowledge, that the works cannot be ex- 
plained, and that those who say the majority do not under- 
stand good works of art, still do not explain those works, 
but only tell us that in order to understand them one must 
read, and see, and hear, these same works over and over 
again. But this is not to explain, it is only to habituate! 
And people may habituate themselves to anything, even to 
the very worst things. As people may habituate themselves 
to bad food, to spirits, tobacco, and opium, just in the same 
way they may habituate themselves to bad art and that is 
exactly what is being done.- 

Moreover it cannot be said that the majority of people lack 
the taste to esteem the highest works of art. The majority 
always have understood, and still understand, what we also 
recognise as being the very best art : the epic of Genesis, the 
Gospel parables, folk-legends, fairy-tales, and folk-songs, are 
understood by all. How can it be that the majority has 
suddenly lost its capacity to understand what is high in 
our art? 

Of a speech it may be said that it is admirable, but in- 
comprehensible to those who do not know the language in 
which it is delivered. A speech delivered in Chinese may 
be excellent, and may yet remain incomprehensible to me 
if I do not know Chinese; but what distinguishes a work of 




WHAT IS ART? 225 

art from all other mental activity is just the fact that its 
language is understood by all, and that it infects all without 
distinction. The tears and laughter of a Chinaman infect me 
just as the laughter and tears of a Russian; and it is the 
same with painting and music, and also poetry, when it is 
translated into a language I understand. The songs of a 
Kirghiz or of a Japanese touch me, though in a lesser degree 
than they touch a Kirghiz or a Japanese. I am also touched 
by Japanese painting, Indian architecture, and Arabian 
stories. If I am but little touched by a Japanese song and a 
Chinese novel, it is not that I do not understand these pro- 
ductions, but that I know and am accustomed to higher works 
of art. It is not because their art is above me. Great works 
of art are only great because they are accessible and compre- 
hensible to everyone. The story of Joseph, translated into 
the Chinese language, touches a Chinese. The story of Sakya 
Muni (Buddha) touches us. And there are, and must be, 
buildings, pictures, statues, and music, of similar power. So 
that if art fails to move men it cannot be said that this is due 
to the spectators' or hearers' lack of understanding; but the 
conclusion to be drawn may be, and should be, that such art 
is either bad or is not art at all. 

Art is differentiated from activity of the understanding, 
which demands preparation and a certain sequence of knowl- 
edge (so that one cannot learn trigonometry before knowing u 
geometry), by the fact that it acts on people independently of 
their state of development and education, that the charm of \ 
a picture, of sounds, or of forms, infects any man, whatever 
his plane of development. 

The business of art lies just in this: to make that under-/ 
stood and felt which in the form of an argument might bej 
incomprehensible and inaccessible. Usually it seems to the\ 
recipient of a truly artistic impression that he knew the thing \ 
before, but had been unable to express it. 



226 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And such has always been the nature of good, supreme art; 
the Iliad, the Odyssey; the stories of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; 
the Hebrew prophets, the psalms, the Gospel parables; the 
story of Sakya Muni, and the hymns of the Vedas: all trans- 
mit very exalted feelings, and are nevertheless quite compre- 
hensible now to us, educated or uneducated, as they were com- 
prehensible to the men of those time% long ago, who were 
even less educated than our labourers. People talk about 
incomprehensibility ; but if art ts the transmission of feelings 
flowing from man's religious perception, how can a feeling 
be incomprehensible which is founded on religion, that is, on 
,' man's relation to God? Such art should be, and has actually 
always been, comprehensible to everybody, because every 
man's relation to God is one and the same. This is why 
the churches and the images in them were always compre- 
hensible to everyone. The hindrance to an understanding of 
the best and highest feelings (as is said in the Gospel) does 
not at all lie in deficiency of development or learning, but on 
the contrary in false development and false learning. A good 
and lofty work of art may be incomprehensible, but not to 
simple, unperverted peasant labourers (all that is highest is 
understood by them) it may be and often is unintelligible 
to erudite, perverted people destitute of religion. And this 
continually occurs in our society, in which the highest feelings 
are simply not understood. For instance, I know people 
who consider themselves most refined and who say that they 
do not understand the poetry of love to one's neighbour, of 
self-sacrifice, or of chastity. 

So that good, great, universal, religious art may be incom- 
prehensible to a small circle of spoilt people, but certainly 
not to any large number of plain men. 

Art cannot be incomprehensible to the great masses only 
because it is very good, as artists of our day are fond of 






WHAT IS ART? 227 



telling us. Rather we are bound to conclude that this art 
is unintelligible to the great masses only because it is very 
bad art, or even is not art at all. So that the favourite argu- 
ment (naively accepted by the cultured crowd), that in order 
to feel art one has- first to understand it (which really only 
means habituate oneself to it), is the truest indication that 
what we are asked to understand by such a method is either 
very bad, exclusive art, or is not art at all. ^ 

People say that works of art do not please the people 
because they are incapable of understanding them. But if 
the aim of works of art is to infect people with the emotion 
the artist has experienced, how can one talk about not- 
understanding ? 

A man of the people reads a book, sees a picture, hears a 
play or a symphony, and is touched by no feeling. He is 
told that this is because he cannot understand. People 
promise to let a man see a certain show; he enters and sees 
nothing. He is told that this is because his sight is not 
prepared for this show. But the man knows for certain that 
he sees quite well, and if he does not see what people promised 
to show him he only concludes (as is quite just) that those 
who undertook to show him the spectacle have not fulfilled 
their engagement. And it is perfectly just for a man who 
does feel the influence of some works of art, to come to this 
conclusion concerning artists who do not, by their works, 
evoke feeling in him. To say that the reason a man is not 
touched by my art is because he is still too stupid, besides 
being very self -conceited and also rude, is to reverse the 
roles, and for the sick to send the hale to bed. 

Voltaire said that "Tous les genres sont bons, hors le 
genre ennuyeux" ; l but with even more right one may say 
of art that Tous les genres sons bons, hors celui qu'on ne 

1 All styles are good except the wearisome style, 



228 TOLSTOY ON ART 

comprend pas, or qui ne produit pas son effet, 1 for of what 
value is an article which fails to effect what was intended? 

Mark this above all: if only it be admitted that art may 
be unintelligible to anyone of sound mind and yet still be art, 
there is no reason why any circle of perverted people should 
not compose works tickling their own perverted feelings, and 
comprehensible to no one but themselves, and call it "art," 
as is actually being done by the so-called Decadents. 

The direction art has taken may be compared to placing 
on a large circle other circles, smaller and smaller, until a 
cone is formed, the apex of which is no longer a circle at 
all. That is what has happened to the art of our times. 

1 All styles are good except that which is not understood, or which fails to pro- 
duce its effect. 




CHAPTER XI 

Counterfeits of art produced by: Borrowing; Imitating; Striking; Interesting. 
Qualifications needful for production of real works of art, and those sufficient 
for production of counterfeits. 

Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject-matter and 
more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper 
classes in its latest productions has even lost all the charac- 
teristics of art and has been replaced by imitations of art. 
Not only has upper-class art in consequence of its separation 
from universal art become poor in subject-matter and bad 
in form, that is, ever more and more unintelligible, it has 
in course of time ceased even to be art at all and has been 
replaced by counterfeits. 

This has resulted from the following causes. Universal art 
arises only when some one of the people having experienced 
a strong emotion feels the necessity of transmitting it to others. 
The art of the rich classes on the other hand arises not from 
the artist's inner impulse, but chiefly because people of the 
upper classes demand amusement and pay well for it. They 
demand from art the transmission of feelings that please 
them, and this demand artists try to meet. But it is a very 
difficult task, for people of the wealthy classes spending 
their lives in idleness and luxury desire to be continually 
diverted by art; and art, even the lowest, cannot be produced 
at will, but has to generate spontaneously in the artist's inner 
self. And therefore, to satisfy the demands of people of the 
upper classes, artists have had to devise methods of produc- 
ing imitations of art. And such methods have been devised. 

These methods are those of (1) borrowing, (2) imitating, 
(3) striking (producing effects), and (4) interesting. 

229 



230 TOLSTOY ON ART 

The first method consists in borrowing whole subjects, or 
merely separate features, from former works recognised by 
everyone as being poetic, and in so re-shaping them with 
sundry additions that they should have an appearance of 
novelty. 

Such works, evoking in people of a certain class memories 
of artistic feelings formerly experienced, produce an impres- 
sion similar to art, and provided only that they conform to 
other needful conditions they pass for art among those who 
seek for pleasure from art. Subjects borrowed from previous 
works of art are usually called poetic subjects. Objects and 
people thus borrowed are called poetic objects and people. 
Thus in our circle all sorts of legends, sagas, and ancient 
traditions, are considered poetic subjects. Among poetic 
people and objects we reckon maidens, warriors, shepherds, 
hermits, angels, devils of all sorts, moonlight, thunder, moun- 
tains, the sea, precipices, flowers, long hair, lions, lambs, 
doves, and nightingales. In general all those objects are 
considered poetic which have most frequently been used by 
former artists in their productions. 

Some forty years ago a stupid but highly cultured ayant 
beaucoup d' acquis lady (since deceased) asked me to listen 
to a novel written by herself. It began with a heroine who 
in a poetic white dress, and with poetically flowing hair, 
was reading poetry near some water in a poetic wood. 
The scene was in Russia, but suddenly from behind the 
bushes the hero appears, wearing a hat with a feather a la 
Guillaume Tell (the book specially mentioned this) and 
accompanied by two poetical white dogs. The authoress 
deemed all this highly poetic, and it might have passed muster 
if only it had not been necessary for the hero to speak. But 
as soon as the gentleman in the hat a la Guillaume Tell 
began to converse with the maiden in the white dress, it became 
obvious that the authoress had nothing to say, but had merely 



Kppn rrw 



WHAT IS ART? 231 



been moved by poetic memories of other works, and imagined 
that by ringing the changes on those memories she could 
produce an artistic impression. But an artistic impression, 
that is to say, infection, is only received when an author has 
in the manner peculiar to himself experienced the feeling 
which he transmits, and not when he passes on another man's 
feeling previously transmitted to him. Such poetry from 
poetry cannot infect people, it can only simulate a work of 
art, and even that only to people of perverted esthetic taste. 
The lady in question being very stupid and devoid of talent, 
it was at once apparent how the case stood; but when such 
borrowing is resorted to by people who are erudite and talented 
and have cultivated the technique of their art, we get those bor- 
rowings from the Greek, the antique, the Christian or mytho- 
logical world, which have become so numerous, and which 
particularly in our day continue to increase and multiply, 
and are accepted by the public as works of art if only the 
borrowings are well mounted by means of the technique of 
the particular art to which they belong. 

As a characteristic example of such counterfeits of art 
in the realm of poetry, take Rostand's Princesse Lointaine, 
in which there is not a spark of art, but which seems very 
poetic to many people, and probably also to its author. 

The second method of imparting a semblance of art is 
that which I have called imitating. The essence of this 
method consists in supplying details accompanying the thing 
described or depicted. In literary art this method consists t 
in describing in the minutest details the external appear- 
ance, the faces, the clothes, the gestures, the tones, and the 
habitations, of the characters represented, with all the occur- 
rences met with in life. For instance in novels and stories, 
when one of the characters speaks we are told in what voice 
he spoke and what he was doing at the time. And the things 
said are not given so that they should have as much sense 



232 TOLSTOY ON ART 

as possible, but as they are in life, disconnectedly, and with 
interruptions and omissions. In dramatic art, besides such 
imitation of real speech, this method consists in having all 
the accessories and all the people just like those in real life. 
In painting this method assimilates painting to photography 
and destroys the difference between them. And strange to 
say this method is used also in music: music tries to imitate, 
not only by its rhythm but also by its very sounds, the sounds 
which in real life accompany the thing it wishes to represent. 
The third method is by action, often purely physical, on 
the outer senses. Work of this kind is said to be "striking," 
"effective." In all arts these effects consist chiefly in con- 
trasts; in bringing together the terrible and the tender, the 
beautiful and the hideous, the loud and the soft, darkness 
and light, the most ordinary and the most extraordinary. In 
verbal art, besides effects of contrast there are also effects 
consisting in the description of things that have never before 
been described. These are usually pornographic details 
evoking sexual desire, or details of suffering and death evok- 
ing feelings of horror, such, for instance, as when describing 
a murder, to give a detailed medical account of the lacerated 
tissues, of the swellings, of the smell, quantity, and appear- 
ance of the blood. It is the same in painting: besides all 
kinds of other contrasts, one is coming into vogue which 
consists in giving careful finish to one object and being 
careless about all the rest. The chief and usual effects in 
painting are effects of light and the presentation of the hor- 
rible. In the drama the most common effects, besides con- 
trasts, are tempests, thunder, moonlight, scenes at sea or by 
the seashore, changes of costume, exposure of the female body, 
madness, murders, and death generally: the dying person 
exhibiting in detail all the phases of agony. In music the 
most usual effects are a crescendo, passing from the softest 
and simplest sounds to the loudest and most complex 



WHAT IS ART? 238 

of the full orchestra; a repetition of the same sounds 
arpeggio in all the octaves and on various instruments; 
or for the harmony, tone, and rhythm, to be not at all those 
naturally flowing from the course of the musical thought but 
such as strike one by their unexpectedness. Besides these, the 
commonest effects in music are produced in a purely physical 
manner by strength of sound, especially in an orchestra. 

Such are some of the most usual effects in the various 
arts, but there yet remains one common to them all, namely, 
to convey by means of one art what it would be natural to 
convey by another: for instance, to make music describe (as is 
done by the programme music of Wagner and his followers), 
or to make painting, the drama, or poetry, induce a frame of i 
mind (as is aimed at by all the Decadent art). 

The fourth method is that of interesting (that is, absorbing 
the mind) in connection with works of art. The interest 
may lie in an intricate plot a method till quite recently 
much employed in English novels and French plays, but 
now going out of fashion and being replaced by realism, 
that is, by detailed description of some historic period or some 
branch of contemporary life. For example, in a novel inter- 
est may consist in a description of Egyptian or Roman life, 
the life of miners, or that of the clerks in a large shop. The 
reader becomes interested, and mistakes this interest for an" 
artistic impression. The interest may also depend on the very 
method of expression; a kind of interest that has now come 
much into use. Both verse and prose, as well as pictures, 
plays, and music, are constructed so that they must be 
guessed like riddles, and this process of guessing, again, 
affords pleasure and gives a semblance of the feeling received 
from art. 

It is very often said that a work of art is very good 
because it is poetic, or realistic, or striking, or interesting; 
whereas not only can neither the first, nor the second, nor 



234. TOLSTOY ON ART 

the third, nor the fourth, of these attributes supply a standard 
of excellence in art, but they have not even anything in com- 
mon with art. 

Poetic means borrowed. All borrowing merely recalls to 
the reader, spectator, or listener, some dim recollection of 
artistic impressions received from previous works of art, and 
does not infect with feeling experienced by the artist himself. 
A work founded on something borrowed, like Goethe's Faust 
for instance, may be very well executed and be full of mind 
and every beauty, but because it lacks the chief characteristic 
of a work of art completeness, oneness, the inseparable unity 
of form and content expressing the feeling the artist has ex- 
I perienced it cannot produce a really artistic impression. In 
availing himself of this method the artist only transmits the 
feeling received by him from a previous work of art ; therefore 
every borrowing, whether it be of whole subjects or of various 
scenes, situations, or descriptions, is but a reflection of art, 
a simulation of it, but not art itself. And therefore, to say 
that a certain production is good because it is poetic, that is, 
resembles a work of art, is like saying of a coin that it is 
good because it resembles real money. 

Equally little can imitation, realism, serve, as many people 
suppose, as a measure of the quality of art. Imitation cannot 
be such a measure, for the chief characteristic of art is the 
infection of others with the feelings the artist has experienced, 
and infection with a feeling is not only not identical with 
description of the accessories of what is transmitted, but is 
usually hindered by superfluous details. The attention of the 
receiver of the artistic impression is diverted by all these well- 
observed details, and they hinder the transmission of feeling 
even when it exists. 

To value a work of art by the degree of its realism, by the 
accuracy of the details reproduced, is as strange as to judge 
of the nutritive quality of food by its external appearance. 



WHAT IS ART? 285 

When we appraise a work according to its realism, we only 
show that we are talking, not of a work of art but of its 
counterfeit. 

Neither does the third method of imitating art by the 
use of what is striking or effective coincide with real art 
any better than the two former methods, for in effective- 
ness (the effects of novelty, of the unexpected, of contrasts, 
of the horrible) there is no transmission of feeling but/ 
only an action on the nerves. If an artist were to paint 
a bloody wound admirably, the sight of the wound would 
strike me, but it would not be art. One prolonged note 
on a powerful organ will produce a striking impression, 
will often even cause tears, but there is no music in it, Z 
because no feeling is transmitted. Yet such physiological 
effects are constantly mistaken for art by people of our 
circle, and this not only in music but also in poetry, painting, 
and the drama. It is said that art has become refined. On 
the contrary, thanks to the pursuit of effects, it has become 
very coarse. A new piece is brought out and accepted all over 
Europe, such, for instance, as Hanneles Himmelfatift, 1 in rJ 
which play the author wishes to transmit to the spectators 
pity for a persecuted girl. To evoke this feeling in the 
audience by means of art, the author should either make 
one of the characters express this pity in such a way as to 
infect everyone, or should describe the girl's feelings correctly. 
But he cannot or will not do this and chooses another way, 
more complicated in stage management but easier for the 
author. He makes the girl die on the stage ; and still further 
to increase the physiological effect on the spectators, he extin- 
guishes the lights in the theatre, leaving the audience in the 
dark, and to the sound of dismal music shows how the girl 
is pursued and beaten by her drunken father. The girl 
shrinks screams groans and falls. Angels appear and 

1 By G. Hauptmann. 



236 TOLSTOY ON ART 

carry her away. And the audience, experiencing some excite- 
ment while this is going on, are fully convinced that this is 
true esthetic feeling. But there is nothing esthetic in such 
excitement, for there is no infection of man by man, but 
only a mingled feeling of pity for another and of self- 
congratulation that it is not I who am suffering: it is like 
what we feel at the sight of an execution, or what the Romans 
felt in their circuses. 

The substitution of effect for esthetic feeling is particularly 
noticeable in musical art that art which by its nature has 
an immediate physiological action on the nerves. Instead 
of transmitting by means of a melody the feelings he has 
experienced, a composer of the new school accumulates and 
complicates sounds, and by now strengthening now weaken- 
ing them, he produces on the audience a physiological effect 
' of a kind that can be measured by an apparatus invented for 
that purpose. 1 And the public mistake this physiological 
effect for the effect of art. 

As to the fourth method that of interesting it also is 
frequently confounded with art. One often hears it said, 
not only of a poem, a novel, or a picture, but even of a 
musical work, that it is interesting. What does this mean? 
To speak of an interesting work of art means either that we 
receive from a work of art information new to us, or that 
the work is not fully intelligible and that little by little, 
and with effort, we arrive at its meaning and experience a 
certain pleasure in this process of guessing it. In neither 
case has the interest anything in common with artistic im- 
pression. Art aims at infecting people with feeling experi- 
enced by the artist. But the mental effort necessary to en- 
able the spectator, listener, or reader, to assimilate the new 

1 An apparatus exists by means of which a very sensitive arrow, in dependence 
on the tension of a muscle of the arm, will indicate the physiological action of 
music on the nerves and muscles. L. T. 




WHAT IS ART? 237 

information contained in the work, or to guess the puzzles 
propounded hinders this infection by distracting him. 
And therefore the interest of a work not only has nothing 
to do with its excellence as a work of art, but rather hinders 
than assists artistic impression. 

We may, in a work of art, meet with what is poetic, and 
realistic, and striking, and interesting, but these things cannot 
replace the essential of art feeling experienced by the artist. 
Latterly, in upper-class art most of the objects given out as 
being works or art are of the kind which only resemble art 
and are devoid of its essential quality feeling experienced 
by the artist. And for the diversion of the rich such objects 
are continually being produced in enormous quantities by the 
artisans of art. 

Many conditions must be fulfilled to enable a man to 
produce a real work of art. It is necessary that he should 
stand on the level of the highest life-conception of his - 
time, that he should experience feeling and have the desire 
and capacity to transmit it, and that he should moreover 
have a talent for some one of the forms of art. It is very * 
seldom that all these conditions necessary to the production 
of true art are combined. But in order aided by the cus- 
tomary methods of borrowing, imitating, introducing effects, 
and interesting unceasingly to produce the counterfeits of 
art which pass for art in our society and are well paid for, 
it is only necessary to have a talent for some branch of 
art; and this is very often to be met with. By talent I 
mean ability: in literary art the ability to express one's 
thoughts and impressions easily, and to notice and remember 
characteristic details; in graphic arts to distinguish 
and remember lines, forms, and colours; in music to dis- 
tinguish the intervals and to remember and transmit the 
sequence of sounds. And a man in our time if only he 
possesses such a talent and selects some speciality, may after 



238 TOLSTOY ON ART 

learning the methods of counterfeiting used in his branch of 
art, if he has patience and if his esthetic feeling (which 
would render such productions revolting to him) be atrophied 
unceasingly to the end of his life turn out works which 
will pass for art in our society. 

To produce such counterfeits, definite rules or recipes 
exist in each branch of art. So the talented man, having 
assimilated them, may produce such works a froid, cold- 
drawn, without feeling. 

In order to write poems, a man of literary talent needs 
only these qualifications: to acquire the knack, conformably 
with the requirements of rhyme and rhythm, of using, in- 
stead of the one really suitable word, ten others meaning 
approximately the same; to learn how to take any phrase 
which to be clear has but one natural order of words, and 
despite all possible dislocations still to retain some sense 
in it; and lastly, to be able, guided by the words required 
for the rhymes, to devise some semblance of thoughts, feel- 
ings, or descriptions, to suit these words. Having acquired 
these qualifications, he may unceasingly produce poems 
short or long, religious, amatory, or patriotic, according to 
the demand. 

If a man of literary talent wishes to write a story or novel, 
he need only form his style that is, learn how to describe 
all that he sees and accustom himself to remember or note 
down details. When he has accustomed himself to this, he 
can, according to his inclination or the demand, unceasingly 
produce novels or stories historical, naturalistic, social, 
erotic, psychological, or even religious, for which latter kind 
a demand and fashion begins to show itself. He can take 
subjects from books or from the events of life, and can 
copy the characters of the people in his book from his 
acquaintances. 

And such novels and stories, if only they are decked out 






WHAT IS ART? 239 






with well-observed and carefully noted details, preferably 
erotic ones, will be considered works of art, even though 
they may not contain a spark of feeling experienced. 

To produce art in dramatic form, a talented man, in ad- 
dition to all that is required for novels and stories, must 
also learn to furnish his characters with as many smart 
and witty sentences as possible, must know how to utilise 
theatrical effects, and how to entwine the action of his 
characters so that there should be no long conversations, 
but as much bustle and movement on the stage as possible. 
If the writer is able to do this, he may produce dramatic 
works one after another without stopping, selecting his sub- 
jects from the reports of the law courts, or from the latest 
society topic, such as hypnotism, heredity, etc., or from deep 
antiquity, or even from the realms of fancy. 

In the sphere of painting and sculpture it is still easier 
for the talented man to produce imitations of art. He need 
only learn to draw, paint, and model especially naked bod- 
ies. Thus equipped he can continue to paint pictures, or 
model statues, one after another, choosing subjects according 
to his bent: mythological, or religious, or fantastic, or sym- 
bolic; or he may depict what is written about in the papers: 
a coronation, a strike, the Turko-Grecian war, famine scenes; 
or, commonest of all, he may just copy anything he thinks 
beautiful from naked women to copper basins. 

For the production of musical art the talented man needs 
still less of what constitutes the essence of art, that is, feeling 
wherewith to infect others ; but on the other hand he requires 
more physical, gymnastic labour than for any other art, 
unless it be dancing. To produce works of musical art he 
must first learn to move his fingers on some instrument as 
rapidly as those who have reached the highest perfection; 
next he must know how in former times polyphonic music 
was written, must study what are called counterpoint and 



240 TOLSTOY ON ART 

fugue; and, furthermore, he must learn orchestration, that is, 
how to utilise the effects of the instruments. But once he has 
learned all this, the composer may unceasingly produce one 
work after another: whether programme-music, opera, or 
song (devising sounds more or less corresponding to the 
words), or chamber music, that is, he may take another man's 
themes and work them up into definite forms by means of 
counterpoint and fugue; or, what is commonest of all, he 
may compose fantastic music, that is, he may take a conjunc- 
tion of sounds which happens to come to hand, and pile 
every sort of complication and ornamentation on to this 
chance combination. 

Thus in all realms of art counterfeits of art are manufac- 
tured to a ready-made, prearranged recipe, and these counter- 
feits the public of our upper classes accept for real art. 

And this substitution of counterfeits for real works of 
art was the third and most important consequence of the sepa- 
ration of the art of the upper classes from universal art. 



CHAPTER XII 

Causes of production of counterfeits. Professionalism. Criticism. Schools of 
art. 

In our society three conditions co-operate to cause the pro- 
duction of objects of counterfeit art. They are (1) the 
considerable remuneration of artists for their productions 
and the professionalism which this has produced among 
artists, (2) art criticism, and (3) schools of art. 

While art was as yet undivided, and only religious art 
was valued and rewarded while indiscriminate art was left 
unrewarded, there were no counterfeits of art or, if any ex- 
isted, being exposed to the criticism of the whole people they 
quickly disappeared. But as soon as that division occurred, 
and the upper classes acclaimed every kind of art as good if 
only it afforded them pleasure, and began to reward such 
art more highly than any other social activity, a large number 
of people immediately devoted themselves to this activity and 
art assumed quite a different character and became a 
profession. 

And as soon as this occurred the chief and most precious 
quality of art its sincerity was at once greatly weakened 
and eventually quite destroyed. 

The professional artist lives by his art and has continually 
to invent subjects for his works, and does invent them. And 
it is obvious how great a difference must exist between works 
of art produced on the one hand by men such as the Jewish 
prophets, the authors of the Psalms, Francis of Assisi, the 
authors of the Iliad and Odyssey, of folk-stories, legends, 
and folk-songs, many of whom not only received no remunera- 
tion for their work but did not even attach their names to it, 
and, on the other hand, works produced by court poets, drama- 

241 



is 



242 TOLSTOY ON ART 

tists, and musicians, receiving honours and remuneration ; and 
later on by professional artists who lived by the trade, re- 
ceiving remuneration from newspaper editors, publishers, im- 
presarios, and in general from the agents who come between 
the artists and the town public the consumers of art. 

Professionalism is the first condition of the diffusion of 
false, counterfeit art. 

The second condition is the growth in recent times of 
art criticism, that is, the valuation of art not by everybody, 
and above all not by plain men, but by erudite, that is, by 
perverted and at the same time self-confident individuals. 

A friend of mine, speaking of the relation of critics to 
artists, half-jokingly defined it thus: "Critics are the stupid 
who discuss the wise." However partial, inexact, and rude 
this definition may be, it is yet partly true, and is incom- 
parably juster than the definition which considers critics to 
be men who can explain works of art. 

"Critics explain!" What do they explain? 

The artist, if a real artist, has by his work transmitted 
to others the feeling he experienced. What is there, then, 
to explain? 

If a work is a good work of art, then the feeling expressed 
by the artist be it moral or immoral transmits itself to 
other people. If transmitted to others, then they feel it 
and all interpretations are superfluous. If the work does 
not infect people, no explanation can make it contagious. 
An artist's work cannot be interpreted. Had it been pos- 
sible to explain in words what he wished to convey, the 
artist would have expressed himself in words. He expressed 
it by his art, only because the feeling he experienced could 
not be otherwise transmitted. The interpretation of works of 
art by words only indicates that the interpreter is himself 
incapable of feeling the infection of art. And this is actually 
the case for, however strange it may seem to say so, critics 






WHAT IS ART? 243 



have always been people less susceptible than other men to 
the contagion of art. For the most part they are able writers, 
educated and clever, but with their capacity for being infected 
by art quite perverted or atrophied. And therefore their 
writings have always largely contributed, and still contribute, 
to the perversion of the taste of that public which reads them 
and trusts them. 

Art criticism did not exist could not and cannot exist 
in societies where art is undivided, and where, consequently, it 
is appraised by the religious conception of life common to 
the whole people. Art criticism grew, and could grow, only 
on the art of the upper classes who did not acknowledge 
the religious perception of their time. 

Universal art has a definite and indubitable internal cri- 
terion religious perception; upper-class art lacks this, and 
therefore the appreciators of that art are obliged to cling to 
some external criterion. And they find it in "the judgments 
of the finest-nurtured," as an English esthetician has phrased 
it, that is, in the authority of the people who are considered 
educated; nor in this alone, but also in a tradition of such 
authorities. This tradition is extremely misleading, both 
because the opinions of "the finest-nurtured" are often mis- 
taken, and also because judgments which were valid once 
cease to be so with the lapse of time. But the critics, having L 
no basis for their judgments, never cease to repeat their tra- 
ditions. The classical tragedians were once considered good, 
and therefore criticism considers them to be so still. Dante 
was esteemed a great poet, Raphael a great painter, Bach a 
great musician and the critics, lacking a standard by which 
to separate good art from bad, not only consider these artists 
great, but regard all their productions as admirable and 
worthy of imitation. Nothing has contributed, and still con- 
tributes, so much to the perversion of art as these authorities 
set up by criticism. A man produces a work of art, express- 



244 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ing in his own peculiar manner, like every true artist, a 
feeling he has experienced. Most people are infected by the 
artist's feeling, and his work becomes known. Then criti- 
cism, discussing the artist, says that the work is not bad, but 
all the same the artist is not a Dante, nor a Shakespeare, nor a 
Goethe, nor a Raphael, nor what Beethoven was in his last 
period. And the young artist sets to work to copy those held 
up for his imitation, and he produces not only feeble works 
but false works, counterfeits of art. 

Thus, for instance, our Pushkin writes his short poems, 
Evgeni One gin, The Gipsies, and his stories works all 
varying in quality, but all true art. But then, under the 
influence of false criticism extolling Shakespeare, he writes 
Boris Godunov, a cold, brain-spun work, and this production 
is lauded by the critics, set up as a model, and imitations of 
it appear: Minin by Ostrovski, and Tsar Boris by Alexey 
Tolstoy, and such imitations of imitations as crowd all litera- 
tures with insignificant productions. The chief harm done 
by the critics is this, that themselves lacking the capacity to 
be infected by art (and that is the characteristic of all critics, 
for did they not lack this they could not attempt the impossible 
the interpretation of works of art), they pay most attention 
to, and eulogise, brain-spun invented works, and set these 
up as models worthy of imitation. That is the reason they 
so confidently extol, in literature, the Greek tragedians, Dante, 
Tasso, Milton, Shakespeare, Goethe (almost all he wrote), 
and, among recent writers, Zola and Ibsen; in music, Beetho- 
ven's last period, and Wagner. To justify their praise of 
these brain-spun invented works, they devise entire theories 
(of which the famous theory of beauty is one) ; and not only 
dull but also talented people compose works in strict defer- 
ence to these theories; and often even real artists, doing 
violence to their genius, submit to them. 

Every false work extolled by the critics serves as a door 




WHAT IS ART? 245 

through which the hypocrites of art at once crowd in. 

It is solely due to the critics, who in our times still praise 
rude, savage, and, for us, often meaningless works of the 
ancient Greeks: Sophocles, Euripides, ^Eschylus, and espe- 
cially Aristophanes; or, of modern writers, Dante, Tasso, 
Milton, Shakespeare; in painting, all of Raphael, all of c 
Michael Angelo, including his absurd "Last Judgment"; in 
music, the whole of Bach, and the whole of Beethoven, in- 
cluding his last period, thanks only to them, have the 
Ibsens, Maeterlincks, Verlaines, Mallarmes, Puvis de Cha- 
vannes, Klingers, Bocklins, Stucks, Schneiders; in music, 
the Wagners, Liszts, Berliozes, Brahmses, and Richard 
Strausses, etc., and all that immense mass of good-for- 
nothing imitators of these imitators, become possible in our 
day. 

As a good illustration of the harmful influence of criticism, 
take its relation to Beethoven. Among his innumerable 
hasty productions written to order, there are, notwithstand- 
ing their artificiality of form, works of true art. But he 
grows deaf, cannot hear, and begins to write invented, un- 
finished works, which are consequently often meaningless 
and musically unintelligible. I know that musicians can 
imagine sounds vividly enough, and can almost hear what 
they read, but imaginary sounds can never be the same as 
real ones, and every composer must hear his production in c 
order to perfect it. Beethoven however could not hear, could 
not perfect his work, and consequently published productions 
which are artistic ravings. But criticism, having once ac- 
knowledged him to be a great composer, seizes on just these 
abnormal works with special gusto and searches for extraor- 
dinary beauties in them. And, to justify its praises (per- 
verting the very meaning of musical art), it attributed to 
music the property of describing what it cannot describe. 
And imitators appear an innumerable host of imitators of 



246 TOLSTOY ON ART 

these abnormal attempts at artistic productions which Beetho- 
ven wrote when he was deaf. 

Then Wagner appears, who at first in critical articles 
praises just Beethoven's last period, connecting this music 
with Schopenhauer's mystical theory that music is the ex- 
pression of Will not of separate manifestations of will 
objectivised on various planes, but of its very essence 
which is in itself as absurd as this music of Beethoven. 
And afterwards he composes music of his own on this theory, 
in conjunction with another still more erroneous system of 
the union of all the arts. After Wagner yet new imitators 
appear, diverging yet further from art: Brahms, Richard 
Strauss, and others. 

Such are the results of criticism. But the third condition 
of the perversion of art, namely, art schools, is almost more 
harmful still. 

As soon as art became, not art for the whole people but 
for a rich class, it became a profession; as soon as it became 
a profession, methods were devised to teach it; people who 
chose this profession of art began to learn these methods, 
and thus professional schools sprang up: classes of rhetoric 
or literature in the public schools, academies for painting, 
conservatoires for music, schools for dramatic art. 

In these schools art is taught ! But art is the transmission 
to others of a special feeling experienced by the artist. How 
can this be taught in schools? 

No school can evoke feeling in a man, and still less can 
it teach him how to manifest it in the one particular manner 
natural to him alone. But the essence of art lies in these 
things. 

The one thing these schools can teach is how to transmit 
feelings experienced by other artists in the way those other 
artists transmitted them. And this is just what the pro- 
fessional schools do teach; and such instruction not only 



WHAT IS ART? 247 

does not assist the spread of true art but, on the contrary, 
by diffusing counterfeits of art does more than anything 
else to deprive people of the capacity to understand true art. 

In literary art people are taught how, without having 
anything they wish to say, to write a many-paged composi- 
tion on a theme about which they have never thought and, 
moreover, to write it so that it should resemble the work of 
an author admitted to be celebrated. This is taught in 
schools. 

In painting the chief training consists in learning to draw 
and paint from copies and models, the naked body chiefly 
(the very thing that is never seen, and which a man occupied 
with real art hardly ever has to depict), and to draw and 
paint as former masters drew and painted. The composition 
of pictures is taught by giving out themes similar to those 
which have been treated by former acknowledged celebrities. 

So also in dramatic schools the pupils are taught to recite 
monologues just as tragedians, held to be celebrated, de- 
claimed them. 

It is the same in music. The whole theory of music is 
nothing but a disconnected repetition of those methods which 
the acknowledged masters of composition made use of. 

I have elsewhere quoted the profound remark of the Rus- 
sian artist Bryulov on art, but I cannot here refrain from re- 
peating it, because nothing better illustrates what can and what 
can not be taught in the schools. Once when correcting a pu- 
pil's study, Byulov just touched it in a few places, and the poor 
dead study immediately became animated. "Why, you only 
touched it a wee bit, and it is quite another thing!" said one 
of the pupils. "Art begins where the wee bit begins," replied 
Byulov, indicating by these words just what is most character- 
istic of art. The remark is true of all the arts, but its justice 
is particularly noticeable in the performance of music. That 
musical execution should be artistic, should be art, that is, 



248 TOLSTOY ON ART 

should carry infection, three chief conditions must be observed. 
There are many others needed for musical perfection: the 
transition from one sound to another must be interrupted or 
continuous; the sound must increase or diminish steadily; it 
must be blended with one and not with another sound; the 
sound must have this or that timbre, and much besides, but 
take the three chief conditions: the pitch, the time, and the 
strength of the sound. Musical execution is only then art, 
only then infects, when the sound is neither higher nor lower 
than it should be, that is, when exactly the infinitely small 
centre of the required note is taken; when that note is con- 
tinued exactly as long as is needed ; and when the strength of 
the sound is neither more nor less than is required. The 
slightest deviation of pitch in either direction, the slightest 
increase or decrease in time, or the slightest strengthening or 
weakening of the sound beyond what is needed, destroys 
the perfection and consequently the infectiousness of the work. 
So that the feeling of infection by the art of music, which 
seems so simple and so easily obtained, is a thing we receive 
only when the performer finds those infinitely minute degrees 
which are necessary to perfection in music. It is the same in 
all arts : a wee bit lighter, a wee bit darker, a wee bit higher, 
lower, to the right or the left in painting; a wee bit 
weaker or stronger in intonation, a wee bit sooner or later 
in dramatic art; a wee bit omitted, over-emphasised, 
or exaggerated in poetry, and there is no contagion. Infec- 
tion is only obtained when an artist finds those infinitely mi- 
nute degrees of which a work of art consists, and only to the 
extent to which he finds them. And it is quite impossible to 
teach people by external means to find these minute degrees: 
they can only be found when a man yields to his feeling. 
No instruction can make a dancer catch just the tact of the 
music, or a singer or a fiddler take exactly the infinitely 
minute centre of his note, or a sketcher draw of all possible 




WHAT IS ART? 249 

lines the only right one, or a poet find the only meet arrange- 
ment of the only suitable words. All this is found only by 
feeling. And therefore schools may teach what is necessary 
in order to produce something resembling art, but not art 
itself. 

The teaching of the schools stops where the wee bit begins 
consequently where art begins. 

Accustoming people to something resembling art, disaccus- 
toms them to the comprehension of real art. And that is how 
it comes about that none are more dull to art than those who 
have passed through the professional schools and been most 
successful in them. Professional schools produce an hypoc- 
risy of art precisely akin to that hypocrisy of religion which 
is produced by theological colleges for training priests, pas- 
tors, and religious teachers generally. As it is impossible in 
a school to train a man so as to make a religious teacher of 
him, so it is impossible to teach a man how to become an 
artist. 

Art schools are thus doubly destructive of art : first, in that 
they destroy the capacity to produce real art in those who have 
the misfortune to enter them and go through a seven or eight 
years' course; and secondly, in that they generate enormous 
quantities of that counterfeit art which perverts the taste of 
the masses and overflows our world. In order that born artists 
may know the methods of the various arts elaborated by for- 
mer artists, there should exist in all elementary schools such 
classes for drawing and music (singing) that, after passing 
through them, every talented scholar may, by using exist- 
ing models accessible to all, be able to perfect himself in his 
art independently. 

These three conditions the professionalisation of artists, 
art criticism, and art schools have had this effect: that 
most people in our times are quite unable even to understand 
what art is, and accept as art the grossest counterfeits of it. 



CHAPTER XIII 

Wagner's "Nibelungen Ring" a type of counterfeit art. Its success, and the 
reasons thereof. 

To what an extent people of our circle and time have lost 
the capacity to receive real art, and have become accustomed 
to accept as art things that have nothing in common with it, 
is best seen from the works of Richard Wagner, which have 
latterly come to be more and more esteemed not only by 
the Germans but also by the French and the English as the 
very highest art revealing new horizons to us. 

The peculiarity of Wagner's music, as is known, consists 
in this, that he considered that music should serve poetry, 
expressing all the shades of a poetical work. 

The union of the drama with music, devised in the fif- 
teenth century in Italy for the revival of what they imagined 
to have been the ancient Greek music-drama, is an artificial 
form which had, and has, success only among the upper 
classes, and among them only when gifted composers such as 
Mozart, Weber, Rossini, and others, drawing inspiration from 
a dramatic subject, yielded freely to the inspiration and sub- 
ordinated the text to the music, so that in their operas the im- 
portant thing to the audience is merely the music on a cer- 
tain text, and not the text at all, which latter even when it 
was utterly absurd, as for instance in the Magic Flute, still 
does not prevent the music from producing an artistic 
impression. 

Wagner wishes to correct the opera by letting music submit 
to the demands of poetry and unite with it. But each art has 
its own definite realm, which is not identical with the realm of 
other arts but merely comes in contact with them; and there- 
fore if the manifestations, I will not say of several but even of 

250 



WHAT IS ART? 251 

two arts the dramatic and the musical be united in one com- 
plete production, then the demands of the one art will make 
it impossible to fulfil the demands of the other, as has always 
occurred in the ordinary operas, where the dramatic art has 
submitted to, or rather yielded place to, the musical. Wagner 
wishes that musical art should submit to dramatic art and 
that both should appear in full strength. But this is impos- 
sible, for every work of art, if it be a true one, is an expression 
of the intimate feelings of the artist, which are quite peculiar 
to him and not like anything else. Such is a musical produc- 
tion and such is a dramatic work, if they be true art. And 
therefore, in order that a production in the one branch of art 
should coincide with a production in the other branch, it is 
necessary that the impossible should happen: that two works / 
from different realms of art should be absolutely exceptional, 
unlike anything that existed before, and yet should coincide 
and be exactly alike. 

And this cannot be, just as there cannot be two men, or 
even two leaves on a tree, exactly alike. Still less can two 
works from different realms of art, the musical and the lit- 
erary, be absolutely alike. If they coincide, then either one 
is a work of art and the other a counterfeit, or both are coun- 
terfeits. Two live leaves cannot be exactly alike but two arti- 
ficial leaves may be. And so it is with works of art. 
They can only coincide completely when neither the one nor 
the other is art, but both are only cunningly devised sem- 
blances of it. 

If poetry and music may be joined, as occurs in hymns, 
songs, and romances (though even in these the music does 
not follow the changes of each verse of the text as Wagner 
wants to, but the song and the music merely produce a coin- 
cident effect on the mind) this occurs only because lyrical 
poetry and music have, to some extent, one and the same aim: 
to produce a mental condition, and the conditions produced 



252 TOLSTOY ON ART 

by lyrical poetry and by music can, more or less, coincide. 
But even in these conjunctions the centre of gravity always 
lies in one of the two productions, so that it is one of them 
that produces the artistic impression while the other remains 
unregarded. And still less is it possible for such union to ex- 
ist between epic or dramatic poetry and music. 

Moreover, one of the chief conditions of artistic creation is 
the complete freedom of the artist from every kind of precon- 
ceived demand. And the necessity of adjusting his musical 
work to a work from another realm of art is a preconceived 
demand of such a kind as to destroy all possibility of crea- 
tive power; and therefore adjusted works of this kind are 
and must be, as has always happened, not works of art but 
only imitations of art, like the music of a melodrama, titles 
of pictures, illustrations to books, and librettos to operas. 

And such Wagner's productions are. A confirmation of 
this is to be seen in the fact that Wagner's new music lacks 
the chief characteristic of every true work of art, namely, 
such entirety and completeness that the smallest alteration in 
its form would disturb the meaning of the whole work. In 
a true work of art poem, drama, picture, song, or symphony 
it is impossible to extract one line, one scene, one figure, 
or one bar from its place and put it in another, without in- 
fringing the significance of the whole work, just as it is impos- 
sible without infringing the life of an organic being to extract 
an organ from one place and insert it somewhere else. But 
in the music of Wagner's last period, with the exception of 
certain parts of little importance which have an independent 
musical meaning, it is possible to make all kinds of transposi- 
tions, putting what was in front behind and vice versa, without 
altering the musical sense. And the reason why these trans- 
positions do not alter the sense of Wagner's music is because 
the sense lies in the words and not in the music. 

The musical score of Wagner's later operas is like what 




WHAT IS ART? 253 

would result should one of those versifiers of whom there 
are now many, with tongues so broken that they can, on any 
theme to any rhymes in any rhythm, write verses which 
sound as if they had a meaning conceive the idea of illus- 
trating by his verses some symphony or sonata of Beethoven, 
or some ballade of Chopin, in the following manner. To 
the first bars of one character, he writes verses corresponding 
in his opinion to those first bars. Next come some bars of 
a different character, and he also writes verses corresponding 
in his opinion to them, but with no internal connection with 
the first verses, and moreover without rhymes and without 
rhythm. Such a production, without the music, would be 
exactly parallel in poetry to what Wagner's operas are in 
music, if heard without the words. 

But Wagner is not only a musician, he is also a poet, 
or both together ; and therefore, to judge of Wagner one must 
know his poetry also that same poetry which the music 
has to subserve. The chief poetical production of Wagner 
is the Nibelungen Ring. This work has attained such 
enormous importance in our time and has such influence on 
all that now professes to be art, that it is necessary for 
everyone to-day to have some idea of it. I have carefully 
read through the four booklets which contain this work, and 
have drawn up a brief summary of it, which I give in 
Appendix III. I would strongly advise the reader (if he 
has not perused the poem itself, which would be the best thing 
to do) at least to read my account of it, so as to have an idea 
of this extraordinary work. It is a model work of counterfeit 
art so gross as to be even ridiculous. 

But we are told that it is impossible to judge of Wagner's 
works without seeing them on the stage. The Second Day 
of this drama, which as I was told is the best part of the 
whole work, was given in Moscow last winter and I went 
to see the performance. 



254 TOLSTOY ON ART 

When I arrived the enormous theatre was already filled 
from top to bottom. There were Grand-Dukes, and the 
flower of the aristocracy, of the merchant class, of the learned, 
and of the middle-class official public. Most of them held 
the libretto, fathoming its meaning. Musicians some of 
them elderly, grey-haired men followed the music, score in 
hand. Evidently the performance of this work was an event 
of importance. 

I was rather late, but I was told that the short prelude 
with which the act begins was of slight importance and 
that it did not matter having missed it. When I arrived, 
an actor sat on the stage amid decorations intended to 
represent a cave and before something which was meant to 
represent a smith's forge. He was dressed in trico tights, 
with a cloak of skins, wore a wig and an artificial beard, and 
with white, weak, genteel hands (his easy movements and 
especially the shape of his stomach and his lack of muscle 
revealed the actor) beat an impossible sword with an un- 
natural hammer in a way in which no one ever uses a ham- 
mer; and at the same time, opening his mouth in a strange 
way, he sang something incomprehensible. The music of 
various instruments accompanied the strange sounds which 
he emitted. From the libretto one was able to gather that 
the actor had to represent a powerful dwarf who lived in 
the cave, and who was forging a sword for Siegfried, whom 
he had reared. One could tell he was a dwarf by the fact 
that the actor walked all the time bending the knees of his 
trico-covered legs. This dwarf, still opening his mouth in 
the same strange way, long continued to sing or shout. The 
music meanwhile runs over something strange, like begin- 
nings which are not continued and do not get finished. From 
the libretto one could learn that the dwarf is telling him- 
self about a ring a giant had obtained and which the 
dwarf wishes to procure through Siegfried's aid, while 



WHAT IS ART? 255 



Siegfried wants a good sword, on the forging of which the 
dwarf is occupied. After this conversation or singing to , 
himself has gone on rather a long time, other sounds are heard 
in the orchestra, also like something beginning and not finish- ^ 
ing, and another actor appears with a horn slung over his 
shoulder and accompanied by a man running on all fours 
dressed up as a bear, whom he sets at the smith-dwarf. The 
latter runs away without unbending the knees of his trico- 
covered legs. This actor with the horn represented the hero, 
Siegfried. The sounds which were emitted in the orchestra on 
the entrance of this actor were intended to represent Siegfried's 
character and are called Siegfried's leit-motiv. And these 
sounds are repeated each time Siegfried appears. There is 
one fixed combination of sounds, or leit-motiv, for each char- 
acter, and this leit-motiv is repeated every time the person 
whom it represents appears; and when anyone is mentioned 
the motiv is heard which relates to that person. Moreover 
each article also has its own leit-motiv or chord. There is 
a motiv of the ring, a motiv of the helmet, a motiv of the 
apple, a motiv of fire, spear, sword, water, etc.; and as 
soon as the ring, helmet, or apple is mentioned, the motiv 
or chord of the ring, helmet, or apple, is heard. The actor 
with the horn opens his mouth as unnaturally as the dwarf, 
and long continues in a chanting voice to shout some words, 
and in a similar chant Mime (that is the dwarf's name) 
makes some reply to him. The meaning of this conversa- 
tion can only be discovered from the libretto; and it is that 
Siegfried was brought up by the dwarf and therefore, for 
some reason, hates him and always wishes to kill him. The 
dwarf has forged a sword for Siegfried, but Siegfried is 
dissatisfied with it. From a ten-page conversation (by the 
libretto), lasting half-an-hour and conducted with the same 
strange openings of the mouth and chantings, it appears 
that Siegfried's mother gave birth to him in the wood, and 



256 TOLSTOY ON ART 

that concerning his father all that is known is that he had 
a sword which was broken, the pieces of which are in Mime's 
possession, and that Siegfried does not know fear, and wishes 
to go out of the wood. Mime however does not want to 
let him go. During the conversation the music never omits, 
at the mention of father, sword, etc., to sound the motiv of 
these people and things. After these conversations fresh 
sounds are heard those of the god Wotan and a wanderer 
appears. This wanderer is the god Wotan. Also dressed 
up in a wig, and also in tights, this god Wotan, standing 
in a stupid pose with a spear, thinks proper to recount what 
Mime must have known before, but what it is necessary to 
tell the audience. He does not tell it simply, but in the form 
of riddles which he orders himself to guess, staking his head 
(one does not know why) that he will guess right. Moreover, 
whenever the wanderer strikes his spear on the ground, fire 
comes out of the ground, and in the orchestra the sounds of 
spear and of fire are heard. The orchestra accompanies the 
conversation, and the motivs of the people and things spoken 
of are always artfully intermingled. Besides this the music 
expresses feelings in the most naive manner: the terrible by 
sounds in the bass, the frivolous by rapid touches in the 
treble, and so forth. 

The riddles have no meaning except to tell the audience 
what the nibelungs are, what the giants are, what the gods 
are, and what has happened before. This conversation also 
is chanted with strangely opened mouths and continues for 
eight libretto pages, and a correspondingly long time on the 
stage. After this the wanderer departs and Siegfried returns 
and talks with Mime for thirteen pages more. There is not 
a single melody the whole of this time, but merely intertwin- 
ings of the leit-motivs of the people and things mentioned. 
The conversation shows that Mime wishes to teach Siegfried 
fear and that Siegfried does not know what fear is. Having 



WHAT IS ART? 257 

finished this conversation, Siegfried seizes one of the pieces 
of what is meant to represent the broken sword, saws it up, 
puts it on what is meant to represent the forge, melts it, and 
then forges it and sings: "Heiho! heiho! heiho! Ho! ho! 
Aha! oho! aha! Heiaho! heiaho! heiaho! Ho! ho! 
Hahei! hoho! hahei!" and Act I finishes. 

Upon the question I had come to the theatre to decide, my 
mind was fully made up, as surely as on the question 
of the merits of my lady acquaintance's novel when she read 
me the scene between the loose-haired maiden in the white 
dress and the hero with two white dogs and a hat with a 
feather a la Guillaume Tell. 

From an author who could compose such spurious scenes, 
outraging all esthetic feeling, as those which I had witnessed, 
there was nothing to be hoped; it may safely be decided that 
all that such an author can write will be bad, because he 
evidently does not know what a true work of art is. I wished 
to leave, but the friends I was with asked me to remain, de- 
claring that one could not form an opinion by that one act, 
and that the second would be better. So I stopped for the 
second act. 

Act II, night. Afterwards dawn. In general the whole 
piece is crammed with lights, clouds, moonlight, darkness, 
magic fires, thunder, etc. 

The scene represents a wood, and in the wood there is a 
cave. At the entrance to the cave sits a fourth actor in tights, 
representing another dwarf. Dawn appears. Enter the 
god Wotan, again with a spear and again in the guise of a 
wanderer. Again his sounds, together with fresh sounds of 
the deepest bass that can be produced. These latter indicate 
that the dragon is speaking. Wotan awakens the dragon. 
The same bass sounds are repeated, growing yet deeper and 
deeper. First the dragon says, "I want to sleep," but after- 
wards he crawls out of the cave. The dragon is represented 



258 TOLSTOY ON ART 

by two men: it is dressed in a green scaly skin, and waves a 
tail at one end while at the other it opens a kind of croco- 
dile's jaw that is fastened on and from which flames appear. 
The dragon (who is meant to be dreadful, and may appear so 
to five-year-old children) utters some words in a terribly 
bass voice. This is all so stupid, so like what is done in the 
booth at a fair, that it is surprising that people over seven 
years of age can witness it seriously; yet thousands of quasi- 
cultured people sit and attentively hear and see it, and are 
delighted. 

Siegfried with his horn reappears, as does Mime also. In 
the orchestra the sounds denoting them are emitted, and 
they talk about whether Siegfried does or does not know 
fear. Mime goes away, and a scene commences which is 
intended to be most poetic. Siegfried, in his tights, lies 
down in a would-be beautiful pose and alternately keeps 
silent and talks to himself. He ponders, listens to the sing- 
ing of birds, and desires to imitate them. For this purpose 
he cuts a reed with his sword and makes a pipe. The dawn 
grows brighter and brighter; the birds sing. Siegfried tries 
to imitate the birds. In the orchestra is heard the imitation 
of birds, alternating with sounds corresponding to the words 
he speaks. But Siegfried does not succeed with his pipe- 
playing, so he plays on his horn instead. This scene is 
unendurable. Of music, that is, of art serving as a means to 
transmit a state of mind experienced by the author, there is 
not even a suggestion. There is something that is absolutely 
unintelligible musically. In a musical sense a hope contin- 
ually arises, followed by disappointment, as if a musical 
thought were commenced only to be broken off. If there are 
something like musical beginnings, these beginnings are so 
short, so encumbered with complications of harmony and 
orchestration and with effects of contrast, are so obscure and 
unfinished, and what is happening on the stage meanwhile 




WHAT IS ART? 259 

is so abnominably false, that it is difficult even to perceive 
these musical snatches, let alone to be infected by them. Above 
all, from the very beginning to the very end and in each note, 
the author's purpose is so audible and visible that one sees and 
hears neither Siegfried nor the birds, but only a limited self- 
opinionated German of bad taste and bad style, who has a 
most false conception of poetry, and in the rudest and most 
primitive manner wishes to transmit to me these false and 
mistaken conceptions of his. 

Everyone knows the feeling of distrust and resistance 
always evoked by an author's evident predetermination. A 
narrator need only to say in advance, "Prepare to cry," or "to 
laugh," and you are sure neither to cry nor to laugh. But -'- 
when you see that an author prescribes emotion at what is not 
touching but only laughable or disgusting, and when you 
see moreover that the author is fully assured that he has cap- 
tivated you, a painfully tormenting feeling results similar 
to what one would feel if an old, deformed woman put on 
a ball-dress and smilingly coquetted before you, confident of 
your approbation. This impression was strengthened by the 
fact that around me I saw a crowd of three thousand people, 
who not only patiently witnessed all this absurd nonsense but 
even considered it their duty to be delighted with it. 

I somehow managed to sit out the next scene also, in 
which the monster appears to the accompaniment of his bass 
notes intermingled with the motiv of Siegfried; but after the 
fight with the monster, and all the roars, fires, and sword- 
wavings, I could stand no more of it, and escaped from the 
theatre with a feeling of repulsion which even now I cannot 
forget. 

Listening to this opera, I involuntarily thought of a re- 
spected, wise, educated, country labourer one, for instance, 
of those wise and truly religious men whom I know among 
the peasants, and I pictured to myself the terrible perplex- 



260 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ity such a man would be in were he to witness what I was 
seeing that evening. 

What would he think if he knew of all the labour spent 
on such a performance, and saw that audience, those great 
ones of the earth, old, bald-headed, grey-bearded men, 
whom he had been accustomed to respect sit silent and at- 
tentive, listening to and looking at all these stupidities for 
five hours on end? Not to speak of an adult labourer, one 
can hardly imagine even a child of over seven occupying 
himself with such a stupid, incoherent fairy tale. 

And yet an enormous audience, the cream of the cultured 
upper classes, sits out five hours of this insane performance, 
and goes away imagining that by paying tribute to this 
nonsense it has acquired a fresh right to esteem itself ad- 
vanced and enlightened. 

I speak of the Moscow public. But what is the Moscow 
public? It is but a hundredth part of that public which 
while considering itself most highly enlightened, esteems it 
a merit so to have lost the capacity of being infected by art 
that not only can it witness this stupid sham without being 
revolted, but can even take delight in it. 

In Bayreuth, where these performances were first given, 
people who considered themselves finely cultured assembled 
from the ends of the earth, spent, say, 100 each to see this 
performance, and for four days running went to see 
and hear this nonsensical rubbish, sitting it out for six hours 
each day. 

But why did people go, and why do they still go to these 
performances, and why do they admire them? The question 
naturally presents itself: How is the success of Wagner's 
works to be explained? 

That success I explain to myself in this way: thanks to 
his exceptional position in having at his disposal the re- 
sources of a king, Wagner was able to command all the 



WHAT IS ART? 261 

methods for counterfeiting art which have been developed by 
long usage, and employing these methods with great ability 
he produced a model work of counterfeit art. The reason 
why I have selected his work for my illustration is, that in 
no other counterfeit of art known to me are all the methods 
by which art is counterfeited viz., borrowings, imitations, 
dramatic effects, and interest so ably and powerfully united. 

From the subject borrowed from antiquity, to the clouds 
and the risings of the sun and moon, Wagner in this work 
has made use of all that is considered poetic. We have 
here the sleeping beauty, and nymphs, and subterranean 
fires, and dwarfs, and battles, and swords, and love, and 
incest, and a monster, and singing-birds: the whole arsenal 
of the poetic is brought into action. 

Moreover everything is imitative: the decorations are imi- 
tated and the costumes are imitated. All is just as, according 
to the data supplied by archaeology, they would have been 
in antiquity. The very sounds are imitative, for Wagner, who 
was not destitute of musical talent, invented just such sounds 
as imitate the strokes of a hammer, the hissing of molten iron, 
the singing of birds, etc. 

Furthermore, in this work everything is in the highest 
degree striking in its effects and in its peculiarities: its mon- 
sters, its magic fires, and its scenes under water; the dark- 
ness in which the audience sit, the invisibility of the orchestra, 
and the hitherto unemployed combinations of harmony. 

And besides, it is all interesting. The interest lies not 
only in the question who will kill whom, and who will 
marry whom, and who is whose son, and what will happen 
next? the interest lies also in the relation of the music 
to the text. The rolling waves of the Rhine now how 
is that to be expressed in music? An evil dwarf appears 
how is the music to express an evil dwarf? and how 
is it to express the sensuality of this dwarf? How will 



262 TOLSTOY ON ART 

bravery, fire, or apples, be expressed in music? How are 
the leit-motivs of the people speaking to be interwoven with 
the leit-motivs of the people and objects about whom they 
speak? And the music has a further interest. It diverges 
from all formerly accepted laws, and most unexpected and 
totally new modulations crop up (as is not only possible 
but even easy in music having no inner law of its being) ; 
the dissonances are new, and are allowed in a new way 
and this, too, is interesting. 

And it is this poeticality, imitativeness, effectfulness, and 
interestingness which, thanks to the peculiarities of Wagner's 
talent and to the advantageous position in which he was 
placed, are in these productions carried to the highest pitch 
of perfection, which so act on the spectator, hypnotising him 
as one would be hypnotised who should listen for several 
consecutive hours- to maniacal ravings pronounced with great 
oratorical power. 

People say, "You cannot judge without having seen 
Wagner performed at Bayreuth: in the dark, where the 
orchestra is out of sight concealed under the stage, and where 
the performance is brought to the highest perfection." And 
this just proves that we have here no question of art, but one 
of hypnotism. It is just what the spiritualists say. To 
convince you of the reality of their apparitions they usually 
say, "You cannot judge; you must try it, be present at several 
seances," that is, come and sit silent in the dark for hours 
together in the same room with semi-sane people and repeat 
this some ten times over, and you shall see all that we see. 

Yes, naturally! Only place yourself in such conditions, 
and you may see what you will. But this can be still more 
quickly attained by getting drunk or smoking opium. It 
is the same when listening to an opera of Wagner's. Sit 
in the dark for four days in company with people who are 
not quite normal, and through the auditory nerves subject 






WHAT IS ART? 263 



your brain to the strongest action of the sounds best adapted 
to excite it, and you will no doubt be reduced to an abnormal 
condition and be enchanted by absurdities. But to attain 
this end you do not even need four days; the five hours 
during which one "day" is enacted, as in Moscow, are quite 
enough. Nor are five hours needed; even one hour is enough 
for people who have no clear conception of what art should 
be, and who have concluded in advance that what they are 
going to see is excellent, and that indifference or dissatis- 
faction with this work will serve as a proof of their infe- 
riority and lack of culture. 

I observed the audience present at this representation. The 
people who led the whole audience and gave the tone to it 
were those who had previously been hypnotized and who 
again succumbed to the hypnotic influence to which they 
were accustomed. These hypnotized people, being in an ab- 
normal condition, were perfectly enraptured. Moreover all 
the art critics, who lack the capacity to be infected by art 
and therefore always especially prize works like Wagner's 
opera where it is all an affair of. the intellect, also with 
much profundity expressed their approval of a work afford- 
ing such ample material for ratiocination. And following 
these two groups went that large city crowd (indifferent to 
art, with their capacity to be infected by it perverted and 
partly atrophied), headed by the princes, millionaires, and 
art patrons, who, like sorry harriers, keep close to those who 
most loudly and decidedly express their opinion. 

" Oh yes, certainly! What poetry! Marvellous! Especi- 
ally the birds!" "Yes, yes! I am quite vanquished!" 
exclaim these people, repeating in various tones what they 
have just heard from men whose opinion appears to them 
authoritative. 

If some people do feel insulted by the absurdity and 
spuriousness of the whole thing, they are timidly silent, as 



264 TOLSTOY ON ART 

sober men are timid and silent when surrounded by tipsy 
people. 

And thus, thanks to the masterly skill with which it counter- 
feits art while having nothing in common with it, a meaning- 
less, coarse, spurious production finds acceptance all over 
the world, costs millions of roubles to produce, and assists 
more and more to pervert the taste of people of the upper 
classes and their conception of art. 






CHAPTER XIV 

Truths fatal to preconceived views are not readily recognised. Proportion of 
works of art to counterfeits. Perversion of taste and incapacity to recognise) art. 
Examples. 

I know that most men not only those considered clever, 
but even those who are very clever, and capable of under- 
standing most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philo- 
sophic problems can very seldom discern even the simplest 
and most obvious truth if it be such as to oblige them to ad- 
mit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with 
much difficulty conclusions of which they are proud, which 
they have taught to others, and on which they have built 
their lives. And therefore I have little hope that what I ad- 
duce as to the perversion of art and taste in our society will 
be accepted or even seriously considered. Nevertheless, I 
must state fully the inevitable conclusion to which my investi- 
gation into the question of art has brought me. This inves- 
tigation has brought me to the conviction that almost all that 
our society considers to be art, good art, and the whole of art, 
far from being real and good art and the whole of art, is not 
even art at all, but only a counterfeit of it. This position, I 
know, will seem very strange and paradoxical; but if we 
once acknowledge art to be human activity by means of which 
some people transmit their feelings to others (and not a serv- 
ice of Beauty, or a manifestation of the Idea, and so forth), 
we shall inevitably have to admit this further conclusion 
also. If it is true that art is an activity by means of which 
one man having experienced a feeling intentionally transmits 
it to others, then we have inevitably to admit further that of 
all that among us is termed art (the art of the upper classes) 

265 



266 TOLSTOY ON ART 

)of all those novels, stories, dramas, comedies, pictures, sculp- 
tures, symphonies, operas, operettas, ballets, etc., which pro- 
I fess to be works of art, scarcely one in a hundred thousand 
/ proceeds from an emotion felt by its author, all the rest being 
but manufactured counterfeits of art, in which borrowing, 
imitation, effects, and interest, replace the contagion of feel- 
vjng. That the proportion of real productions of art is to 
the counterfeits as one to some hundreds of thousands or even 
more, may be seen by the following calculation. I have read 
somewhere that the artist painters in Paris alone number 
30,000; there will probably be as many in England, as many 
in Germany, and as many in Russia, Italy, and the smaller 
states combined. So that in all there will be in Europe, say, 
120,000 painters; and there are probably as many musicians 
and as many literary artists. If these 360,000 individuals 
produce three works a year each (and many of them produce 
ten or more), then each year yields over a million so-called 
works of art. How many then must have been produced in 
the last ten years, and how many in the whole time since 
upper-class art broke off from the art of the whole people? 
Evidently millions. Yet who of all the connoisseurs of art 
has received impressions from all these pseudo works of art? 
Not to mention all the labouring classes who have no con- 
ception of these productions, even people of the upper classes 
cannot know one in a thousand of them all, and cannot remem- 
ber those they have known. These works all appear under 
the guise of art, produce no impression on anyone (except 
when they serve as pastimes for the idle crowd of rich people), 
and vanish utterly. 

In reply to this it is usually said that without this enor- 
mous number of unsuccessful attempts we should not have 
the real works of art. But such reasoning is as though a 
baker, in reply to a reproach that his bread was bad, were 
to say that if it were not for the hundreds of spoiled loaves 



WHAT IS ART? 267 

there would not be any well-baked ones. It is true that where 
there is gold there is also much sand; but that cannot serve 
as a reason for talking a lot of nonsense in order to say 
something wise. 

We are surrounded by productions considered artistic. 
Thousands of verses, thousands of poems, thousands of novels, 
thousands of dramas, thousands of pictures, thousands of 
musical pieces, follow one after another. All the verses de- 
scribe love, or nature, or the author's state of mind, and in all 
of them rhyme and rhythm are observed. All the dramas and 
comedies are splendidly mounted and are performed by admi- 
rably trained actors. All the novels are divided into chap- 
ters; all of them describe love, contain effective situations, and 
correctly describe the details of life. All the symphonies 
contain allegro, andante, scherzo, and finale; all consist of 
modulations and chords, and are played by highly-trained 
musicians. All the pictures, in gold frames, saliently depict 
faces and sundry accessories. But among these productions 
in the various branches of art there is in each branch one 
among hundreds of thousands not only somewhat better than 
the rest, but differing from them as a diamond differs from 
paste. The one is priceless, the others not only have no value 
but are worse than valueless for they deceive and pervert 
taste. And yet externally they are, to a man of perverted 
or atrophied artistic perception, precisely alike. 

In our society the difficulty of recognising real works of 
art is further increased by the fact that the external quality 
of the work in false productions is not only no worse, but 
often better, than real ones; the counterfeit is often more 
effective than the real, and its subject more interesting. 
How is one to discriminate? How is one to find a production 
in no way distinguished in externals from hundreds of thou- 
sands of others intentionally made precisely to imitate it? 

For a country peasant of unperverted taste this is as 



268 TOLSTOY ON ART 

easy as it is for an animal of unspoilt scent to follow the 
trace he needs among a thousand others in wood or forest. 
The animal unerringly finds what he needs. So also the 
man, if only his natural qualities have not been perverted, 
will without fail select from among thousands of objects the 
real work of art he requires that infecting him with the 
feeling experienced by the artist. But it is not so with those 
whose taste has been perverted by their education and life. 
The receptive feeling of these people is atrophied, and in 
valuing artistic productions they must be guided by discussion 
and study, which discussion and study completely confuse 
them. So that most people in our society are quite unable 
to distinguish a work of art from the grossest counterfeit. 
People sit for whole hours in concert-rooms and theatres 
listening to the new composers, consider it a duty to read the 
novels of the famous modern novelists and to look at pictures 
representing either something incomprehensible or just the 
very things they see much better in real life; and, above all, 
they consider it incumbent on them to be enraptured by 
all this, imagining it all to be art, while at the same time 
they will pass real works of art by not only without atten- 
tion, but even with contempt, merely because in their circle 
these works are not included in the list of works of art. 

A few days ago I was returning home from a walk feeling 
depressed, as sometimes happens. On nearing the house I 
heard the loud singing of a large choir of peasant women. 
They were welcoming my daughter, celebrating her return 
home after her marriage. In this singing, with its cries 
and clanging of scythes, such a definite feeling of joy 
cheerfulness and energy was expressed, that without noticing 
how it infected me I continued on my way towards the 
house in a better mood and reached home smiling and quite 
in good spirits. That same evening a visitor, an admirable 
musician famed for his execution of classical music and 



WHAT IS ART? 269 



particularly of Beethoven, played us Beethoven's sonata, 
Opus 101. For the benefit of those who might otherwise 
attribute my judgment of that sonata of Beethoven to non- 
comprehension of it, I should mention that whatever other 
people understand of that sonata and of other productions 
of Beethoven's later period, I, being very susceptible to music, 
understand equally. For a long time I used to attune my- 
self to delight in those shapeless improvisations which form 
the subject-matter of the works of Beethoven's later period, 
but I had only to consider the question of art seriously, and 
to compare the impression I received from Beethoven's later 
works with those pleasant, clear, and strong, musical impres- 
sions which are transmitted, for instance, by the melodies of 
Bach (his arias), Haydn, Mozart, Chopin (when his melodies 
are not overloaded with complications and ornamentation), 
and of Beethoven himself in his earlier period, and above 
all, with the impressions produced by folk-songs, Italian, 
Norwegian, or Russian, by the Hungarian csdrdtTs, and 
other such simple, clear, and powerful music, and the obscure, 
almost unhealthy, excitement from Beethoven's later pieces 
which I had artificially evoked in myself, was immediately 
destroyed. 

On the completion of the performance (though it was 
noticeable that everyone had become dull) those present, in 
the accepted manner, warmly praised Beethoven's profound 
production and did not forget to add that formerly they 
had not been able to understand that last period of his, 
but that they now saw he was really then at his very best. 
And when I ventured to compare the impression made on me 
by the singing of the peasant women an impression which 
had been shared by all who heard it with the effect 
of this sonata, the admirers of Beethoven only smiled con- 
temptuously, not considering it necessary to reply to such 
strange remarks. 



270 TOLSTOY ON ART 

But for all that the song of the peasant women was real 
art transmitting a definite and strong feeling, while the 
101st sonata of Beethoven was only an unsuccessful attempt 
at art, containing no definite feeling and therefore not 
infectuous. 

For my work on art I have this winter read diligently, 
though with great effort, the celebrated novels and stories, 
praised by all Europe, written by Zola, Bourget, Huysmans, 
and Kipling. At the same time I chanced on a story in a 
child's magazine, by a quite unknown writer, which told 
of the Easter preparations in a poor widow's family. The 
story tells how the mother managed with difficulty to obtain 
some wheat-flour, which she poured on the table ready to 
knead. She then went out to procure some yeast, telling 
the children not to leave the hut and to take care of the 
flour. When the mother had gone, some other children ran 
shouting near the window, calling those in the hut to come 
to play. The children forgot their mother's warning, ran 
into the street, and were soon engrossed in the game. The 
mother, on her return with the yeast, finds a hen on the table 
throwing the last of the flour to her chickens, who were busily 
picking it out of the dust of the earthen floor. The mother, 
in despair, scolds the children, who cry bitterly. And the 
mother begins to feel pity for them but the white flour has 
all gone. So to mend matters she decides to make the Easter 
cake with sifted rye-flour, brushing it over with white of egg 
and surrounding it with eggs. "Rye-bread which we bake 
is as good as a cake," says the mother, using a rhyming 
proverb to console the children for not having an Easter cake 
made with white flour. And the children, quickly passing 
from despair to rapture, repeat the proverb and await the 
Easter cake more merrily even than before. 

Well! the reading of the novels and stories by Zola, 
Bourget, Huysmans, Kipling, and others, handling the most 




"THE DAY OF JUDGMENT" 

A painting by V. M. Vasnetsov in Kief Cathedral 
An example of a sort of picture Tolstoy disliked 



WHAT IS ART? 271 

harrowing subjects, did not touch me for one moment, and 
I was provoked with the authors all the while as one is 
provoked with a man who considers you so naive that he 
does not even conceal the trick by which he intends to take 
you in. From the first lines you see the intention with 
which the book is written, the details all become superfluous, 
and one feels dull. Above all, one knows that the author 
had no other feeling all the time than a desire to write a 
story or a novel, and so one receives no artistic impression. 
On the other hand I could not tear myself away from the 
unknown author's tale of the children and the chickens, 
because I was at once infected by the feeling the author had 
evidently experienced, re-evoked in himself, and transmitted. 

Vasnetsov is one of our Russian painters. He has painted 
ecclesiastical pictures in Kief Cathedral, and everyone 
praises him as the founder of some new, elevated kind of 
Christian art. He worked at those pictures for ten years, 
was paid tens of thousands of roubles for them, and they are 
all simply bad imitations of imitations of imitations, destitute 
of any spark of feeling. And this same Vasnetsov drew a 
picture for Turgenev's story "The Quail" (in which it is 
told how a son pitied a quail that he had seen his father kill) 
showing the boy asleep with pouting upper lip, and above 
him, as a dream, the quail. And this picture is a true work 
of art. 

In the English Academy of 1897 two pictures were ex- 
hibited together; one of which, by J. C. Dollman, was the 
temptation of St. Anthony. The Saint is on his knees pray- 
ing. Behind him stands a naked woman and animals of 
some kind. It is apparent that the naked woman pleased 
the artist very much, but that Anthony did not concern him 
at all; and that so far from the temptation being terrible to 
him (the artist) it is highly agreeable. And therefore if 
there be any art in this picture, it is very nasty and false. 



272 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Next in the same book of academy pictures comes a picture 
by Langley, showing a stray beggar boy, who has evidently 
been called in by a woman who has taken pity on him. 
The boy, pitifully drawing his bare feet under the bench, 
is eating; the woman is looking on, probably considering 
whether he will not want some more; and a girl of about 
seven, leaning on her arm, is carefully and seriously looking 
on, not taking her eyes from the hungry boy and evidently 
understanding for the first time what poverty is, and what 
inequality among people is, and asking herself why she has 
everything provided for her while this boy goes barefoot 
and hungry? She feels sorry and yet pleased. And she 
loves both the boy and goodness. . . . And one feels that 
the artist loved this girl, and that she too loves. And this 
picture, by an artist who, I think, is not very widely known, 
is an admirable and true work of art. 

I remember seeing a performance of Hamlet by Rossi. 
Both the tragedy itself and the performer who took the chief 
part are considered by our critics to represent the climax of 
supreme dramatic art. And yet, both from the subject-matter 
of the drama and from the performance, I experienced all the 
time that peculiar suffering which is caused by false imita- 
tions of works of art. And I lately read of a theatrical 
performance among a savage tribe the Voguls. A specta- 
tor describes the play. A big Vogul and a little one, both 
dressed in reindeer skins, represent a reindeer-doe and its 
young. A third Vogul, with a bow, represents a huntsman 
on snow-shoes, and a fourth imitates with his voice a bird 
that warns the reindeer of their danger. The play is that 
the huntsman follows the track that the doe with its young 
one has travelled. The deer run off the scene and again 
reappear. (Such performances take place in a small tent- 
house.) The huntsman gains more and more on the pursued. 
The little deer is tired and presses against its mother. The 



WHAT IS ART? 273 



doe stops to draw breath. The hunter comes up with them 
and draws his bow. But just then the bird sounds its note, 
warning the deer of their danger. They escape. Again there 
is a chase and again the hunter gains on them, catches them, 
and lets fly his arrow. The arrow strikes the young deer. 
Unable to run, the little one presses against its mother. The 
mother licks its wound. The hunter draws another arrow. 
The audience, as the eye-witness describes them, are paralysed 
with suspense; deep groans and even weeping are heard 
among them. And from the mere description I felt that this 
was a true work of art. 

What I am saying will be considered irrational paradox 
at which one can only be amazed; but for all that I must 
say what I think, namely, that people of our circle, of whom 
some compose verses, stories, novels, operas, symphonies, 
and sonatas, paint all kinds of pictures and make statues, 
while others hear and look at these things, and again others 
appraise and criticise them all: discuss, condemn, triumph, 
and generation after generation raise monuments to one 
another that all these people, with very few exceptions, 
artists, and public, and critics, have never (except in child- 
hood and earliest youth, before hearing any discussions on art) 
experienced that simple feeling familiar to the plainest man 
and even to a child, that sense of infection with another's 
feeling compelling us to rejoice in another's gladness, to 
sorrow at another's grief, and to mingle souls with another 
which is the very essence of art. And therefore these 
people not only cannot distinguish true works of art from 
counterfeits, but continually mistake for real art the worst 
and most artificial, while they do not even perceive works 
of real art, because the counterfeits are always more ornate, 
while true art is modest. 



CHAPTER XV 

The quality of art, considered apart from its subject-matter The sign 
of art: infectiousness. Incomprehensible to those whose taste is perverted. Con' 
ditions of infection: Individuality; Clearness; Sincerity. 

Art, in our society, has become so perverted that not only 
has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very 
perception of what art really is has been lost. In order to 
be able to speak about the art of our society it is, therefore, 
first of all necessary to distinguish art from counterfeit art. 

There is one indubitable sign distinguishing real art from 
its counterfeit namely, the infectiousness of art. If a man , 
wi thout exercising effort T and without altering his standpoint , 
on reading, hearing, or seeing another man's work experie nces 
a mental condition which unites him with that man and with 
other peopl e who^ aie alsu affected by that work, then the 
object evoking that co ndition is a work of art. And however 
poetic, realistic, striking, or rnleresling, a woHfmay be, it is 
not a work of art if it does not evoke that feeling (quite dis- 
tinct from all other feelings) of joy and of spiritual union with 
another (the author) and with others (those who are also 
infected by it). 

It is true that this indication is an internal one, and that 
there are people who have forgotten what the action of real 
art is, who expect something else from art (in our society 
the great majority are in this state), and that therefore such 
people may mistake for this esthetic feeling the feeling of 
diversion and a certain excitement which they receive from 
counterfeits of art. But though it is impossible to undeceive 
these people, just as it may be impossible to convince a man 
suffering from colour-blindness that green is not red, yet, for 
all that, this indication remains perfectly definite to those 

274 




at 



i 



- aq 



whose 



WHAT IS ART? 275 



feeling for art is neither perverted nor atrophied, and it 
clearly distinguishes the feeling produced by art from all 
other feelings. 

The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the recipient 
of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he 
feels as if the work were his own and not someone else's 
as if what it expresses were just what he had long been 
wishing to express. A real work of art destroys, in the 
consciousness of the recipient, the separation between him- 
self and the artist, nor that alone, but also between himself 
and all whose minds receive this work of art. In this 
freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, 
in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic 
and the great attractive force of art. c- 

If a man is infected by the author's condition of soul, if 
he feels this emotion and this union with others, then the 
object which has effected this is art; but if there be no such 
infection, if there be not this union with the author and 
with others who are moved by the same work then it is not 
art. And not only is infection a sure sign of art, but the 
degree of infectiousness is also the sole measure of ex- 
cellence in art. 

The stronger the infection the better is the art, as art, 
speaking now apart from its subject-matter that is, not con- 
sidering the quality of the feelings it transmits. 

And the degree of the infectiousness of art depends on 
three conditions: 

(1) On the greater or lesser individuality of the feeling 
transmitted; (2) on the greater or lesser clearness with which 
the feeling is transmitted; (3) on the sincerity of the artist, 
that is, on the greater or lesser force with which the artist 
himself feels the emotion he transmits. 

The more individual the feeling transmitted the more 
strongly does it act on the recipient*; the more individual the 



276 TOLSTOY ON ART 

state of soul into which he is transferred the more pleas- 
ure does the recipient obtain and therefore the more readily 
and strongly does he join in it. 

The clearness of expression assists infection because the 
recipient who mingles in consciousness with the author is 
the better satisfied the more clearly the feeling is trans- 
mitted which as it seems to him he has long known and 
felt and for which he has only now found expression. 

But most of all is the degree of infectiousness of art in- 
creased by the degree of sincerity in the artist. As soon as 
the spectator, hearer, or reader, feels that the artist is in- 
fected by his own production and writes, sings, or plays, 
for himself and not merely to act on others, this mental con- 
dition of the artist infects the recipient; and, contrariwise, 
as soon as the spectator, reader, or hearer, feels that the author 
is not writing, singing, or playing, for his own satisfaction 
does not himself feel what he wishes to express but is doing 
it for him, the recipient, resistance immediately springs up 
and the most individual and the newest feelings and the 
cleverest technique not only fail to produce any infection 
but actually repel. 

I have mentioned three conditions of contagion in art, but 
they may all be summed up into one, the last, sincerity, that 
is, that the artist should be impelled by an inner need to 
express his feeling. That condition includes the first; for 
if the artist is sincere he will express the feeling as he ex- 
perienced it. And as each man is different from everyone 
else, his feeling will be individual for everyone else; and the 
more individual it is the more the artist has drawn it from 
the depths of his nature the more sympathetic and sincere 
will it be. And this same sincerity will impel the artist to 
find a clear expression of the feeling which he wishes to 
transmit. 

Therefore this third condition sincerity is the most im- 



WHAT IS ART? 277 

portant of the three. It is always complied with in peasant 
art, and this explains why such art always acts so powerfully; 
but it is a condition almost entirely absent from our upper- 
class art, which is continually produced by artists actuated 
by personal aims of covetousness or vanity. 

Such are the three conditions which divide art from its 
counterfeits, and which also decide the quality of every work 
of art considered apart from its subject-matter. 

The absence of any one of these conditions excludes a 
work from the category of art and relegates it to that of 
art's counterfeits. If the work does not transmit the artist's 
peculiarity of feeling and is therefore not individual, if it 
is unintelligibly expressed, or if it has not proceeded from 
the author's inner need for expression it is not a work of art. 
If all these conditions are present, even in the smallest 
degree, then the work, even if a weak one, is yet a work 
of art. 

The presence in various degrees of these three conditions: 
individuality, clearness, and sincerity, decides the merit of 
a work of art, as art, apart from subject-matter. All works 
of art take rank of merit according to the degree in which 
they fulfil the first, the second, and the third of these con- 
ditions. In one the individuality of the feeling transmitted 
may predominate; in another, clearness of expression; in a 
third, sincerity ; while a fourth may have sincerity and individ- 
uality but be deficient in clearness; a fifth, individuality 
and clearness, but less sincerity; and so forth, in all possible 
degrees and combinations. 

Thus is art divided from what is not art, and thus is the 
quality of art, as art, decided, independently of its subject- 
matter, that is to say, apart from whether the feelings it 
transmits are good or bad. 

But how are we to define good and bad art with reference 
to its content or subject-matter? 



CHAPTER XVI 

The quality of art, considered according to its subject-matter. The bet- 
ter the feeling the better the art. The cultured crowd. The religious perception 
of our age. New ideals put fresh demands to art. Art unites. Religious 
art. Universal art. Both co-operate to one result. The new appraisement of art. 
Bad art. Examples of art. How to test a work claiming to be art. 

How in art are we to decide what is good and what is bad 
in subject-matter? 

Art, like speech, is a means of communication and there- 
fore of progress, that is, of the movement of humanity for- 
ward towards perfection. Speech renders accessible to men 
of the latest generations all the knowledge discovered by the 
experience and reflection both of preceding generations and 
of the best and foremost men of their own times ; art renders 
accessible to men of the latest generations all the feelings 
experienced by their predecessors, and those also which are 
felt by their best and foremost contemporaries. And as the 
evolution of knowledge proceeds by truer and more necessary 
knowledge dislodging and replacing what is mistaken and 
unnecessary, so the evolution of feeling proceeds through art, 
feelings less kind and less needful for the well-being of 
mankind being replaced by others kinder and more needful 
for that end. That is the purpose of art. And, speaking 
now of its subject-matter, the more art fulfils that purpose 
the better the art, and the less it fulfils it the worse the art. 

And the appraisement of feelings (that is, the acknowledg- 
ment of one set of feelings or another as being more or less 
good, more or less necessary for the well-being of mankind) 
is made by the religious perception of the age. 

In every period of history and in every human society 

278 



WHAT IS ART? 279 



there exists an understanding of the meaning of life which 
represents the highest level to which men of that society 
have attained, an understanding defining the highest good 
at which that society aims. This understanding is the 
religious perception of the given time and society. And 
this religious perception is always clearly expressed by a few 
advanced men, and more or less vividly perceived by all the 
members of the society. Such a religious perception and its 
corresponding expression exists always in every society. If 
it appears to us that in our society there is no religious per- 
ception, this is not because there really is none but only 
because we do not want to see it. And we often wish not 
to see it because it exposes the fact that our life is incon- 
sistent with that religious perception. 

Religious perception in a society is like the direction of 
a flowing river. If the river flows at all, it must have a 
direction. If a society lives, there must be a religious per- 
ception indicating the direction in which, more or less con- 
sciously, all its members tend. 

And so there always has been and is a religious percep- 
tion in every society. And it is by the standard of this 
religious perception that the feelings transmitted by art have 
always been estimated. It has always been only on the basis 
of this religious perception of their age that men have chosen, 
from the endlessly varied spheres of art, that art which 
transmitted feelings making religious perception operative in 
actual life. And such art has always been highly valued and ^ 
encouraged; while art transmitting feelings already outlived, 
flowing from the antiquated religious perceptions of a former 
age, has always been condemned and despised. All the rest 
of art, transmitting those most diverse feelings by means of 
which people commune with one another, was not condemned, 
and was tolerated if only it did not transmit feelings contrary 
to religious perception. Thus for instance among the Greeks, 



280 TOLSTOY ON ART 

art transmitting the feeling of beauty, strength, and courage 
(Hesiod, Homer, Phidias) was chosen, approved, and encour- 
aged; while art transmitting feelings of rude sensuality, 
despondency, and effeminacy, was condemned and despised. 
Among the Jews, art transmitting feelings of devotion and 
submission to the God of the Hebrews and to His will (the 
epic of Genesis, the prophets, the Psalms) was chosen and 
encouraged, while art transmitting feelings of idolatry (the 
golden calf) was condemned and despised. All the rest of 
art stories, songs, dances, ornamentation of houses, of 
utensils, and of clothes which was not contrary to religious 
perception, was neither distinguished nor discussed. Thus 
in regard to its subject-matter has art been appraised always 
and everywhere and thus it should be appraised, for this 
attitude towards art proceeds from the fundamental charac- 
teristics of human nature and those characteristics do not 
change. 

I know that according to an opinion current in our times 
religion is a superstition which humanity has outgrown, and 
it is therefore assumed that no such thing exists as a religious 
perception common to us all by which art in our time can be 
estimated. I know that this is the opinion current in the 
pseudo-cultured circles of to-day. People who do not ac- 
knowledge Christianity in its true meaning because it under- 
mines all their social privileges, and who therefore invent all 
kinds of philosophic and esthetic theories to hide from them- 
selves the meaninglessness and wrongness of their lives, 
cannot think otherwise. These people intentionally, or some- 
times unintentionally, confuse the notion of a religious cult 
with the notion of religious perception, and think that by deny- 
ing the cult they get rid of religious perception. But even the 
very attacks on religion, and the attempts to establish an idea 
of life contrary to the religious perception of our times, most 
clearly demonstrate the existence of a religious percep- 



WHAT IS ART? 281 

tion condemning the lives that are not in harmony with it. 

If humanity progresses, that is, moves forward, there must 
inevitably be a guide to the direction of that movement. 
And religions have always furnished that guide. All his- 
tory shows that the progress of humanity is accomplished 
no otherwise than under the guidance of religion. But if 
the race cannot progress without the guidance of religion, 
and progress is always going on, and consequently also 
in our own times, then there must be a religion of our times. 
So that whether it pleases or displeases the so-called cultured 
people of to-day, they must admit the existence of religion 
not of a religious cult, Catholic, Protestant, or another, but 
of religious perception which even in our times is the guide 
always present where there is any progress. And if a re- 
ligious perception exists amongst us, then our art should be 
appraised on the basis of that religious perception; and as 
has been the case always and everywhere art transmitting 
feelings flowing from the religious perception of our time 
should be chosen from amongst all the indifferent art, should 
be acknowledged, highly valued, and encouraged; while art 
running counter to that perception should be condemned and 
despised, and all the remaining indifferent art should neither 
be distinguished nor encouraged. 

The religious perception of our time, in its widest and 
most practical application, is the consciousness that our well- 
being, both material and spiritual, individual and collective, 
temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of brotherhood 
among men in their loving harmony with one another. 
This perception is not only expressed by Christ and all the 
best men of past ages, it is not only repeated in the most 
varied forms and from most diverse sides by the best men 
of our times, but it already serves as a clue to all the complex 
labour of humanity, consisting, as this labour does, on the 
one hand in the destruction of physical and moral obstacles 



t/ 



282 TOLSTOY ON ART 

to the union of men, and on the other hand in establishing 
the principles common to all men which can and should unite 
them in one universal brotherhood. And it is on the basis 
of this perception that we should appraise all the phenom- 
ena of our life, and among the rest our art also; choosing 
from all its realms and highly prizing and encouraging 
whatever transmits feelings flowing from this religious per- 
ception, rejecting whatever is contrary to it, and not attribut- 
ing to the rest of art an importance not properly belonging 
to it. 

The chief mistake made by people of the upper classes 
at the time of the so-called Renaissance, a mistake we still 
perpetuate, was not that they ceased to value and to attach 
importance to religious art (people of that period could not 
attach importance to it because, like our own upper classes, 
they could not believe in what the majority considered to be 
religion), but their mistake was that they set up in place 
of religious art which was lacking, an insignificant art which 
aimed only at giving pleasure, that is, they began to choose, 
to value, and to encourage, in place of religious art, some- 
thing which in any case did not deserve such esteem and 
encouragement. 

One of the Fathers of the Church said that the great 
evil is not that men do not know God, but that they have 
set up, instead of God, that which is not God. So also with 
art. The great misfortune of the people of the upper classes 
of our time is not so much that they are without a religious 
art, as that, instead of a supreme religious art chosen from 
all the rest as being specially important and valuable, they 
have chosen a most insignificant and, usually, harmful art, 
which aims at pleasing certain people, and which therefore, 
if only by its exclusive nature, stands in contradiction to 
that Christian principle of universal union which forms the 
religious perception of our time. Instead of religious art, 



WHAT IS ART? 283 

an empty and often vicious art is set up, and this hides from 
men's notice the need of that true religious art which should 
be present in life in order to improve it. 

It is true that art which satisfies the demands of the re- 
ligious perception of our time is quite unlike former art, but, 
notwithstanding this dissimilarity, to a man who does not 
intentionally hide the truth from himself what does form 
the religious art of our age is very clear and definite. In 
former times, when the highest religious perception united 
only some people (who even if they formed a large society 
were yet but one society surrounded by others Jews, or 
Athenian or Roman citizens), the feelings transmitted by 
the art of that time flowed from a desire for the might, great- 
ness, glory, and prosperity of that society, and the heroes 
of art might be people who contributed to that prosperity 
by strength, by craft, by fraud, or by cruelty (Ulysses, Jacob, 
David, Samson, Hercules, and all the heroes). But the re- 
ligious perception of our times does not select any one society 
of men; on the contrary it demands the union of all 
absolutely of all people without exception and above every 
other virtue it sets brotherly love to all men. And therefore 
the feelings transmitted by the art of our time not only can- 
not coincide with the feelings transmitted by former art, but 
must run counter to them. 

Christian, truly Christian, art has been so long in establish- 
ing itself, and has not yet established itself, just because the 
Christian religious perception was not one of those small 
steps by which humanity advances regularly, but was an 
enormous revolution which, if it has not already altered, 
must inevitably alter the entire life-conception of mankind, 
and consequently the whole internal organisation of their life. 
It is true that the life of humanity, like that of an individ- 
ual, moves regularly; but in that regular movement come, as 
it were, turning-points which sharply divide the preceding 



284 TOLSTOY ON ART 

from the subsequent life. Christianity was such a turning- 
point; such at least it must appear to us who live by the 
Christian perception of life. Christian perception gave an- 
other, a new, direction to all human feelings, and therefore 
completely altered both the content and the significance of 
art. The Greeks could make use of Persian art and the 
Romans could use Greek art, or, similarly, the Jews could use 
Egyptian art, the fundamental ideals were one and the same. 
Now the ideal was the greatness and prosperity of the Per- 
sians, now the greatness and prosperity of the Greeks, now 
that of i the Romans. The same art was transferred into 
other conditions and served new nations. But the Christian 
ideal changed and reversed everything, so that, as the Gospel 
puts it, "That which was exalted among men has become an 
abomination in the sight of God." The ideal is no longer 
the greatness of Pharaoh or of a Roman emperor, not the 
beauty of a Greek nor the wealth of Phoenicia, but humility, 
purity, compassion, love. The hero is no longer Dives, but 
Lazarus the beggar; not Mary Magdalene in the day of her 
beauty, but in the day of her repentance ; not those who acquire 
wealth, but those who have abandoned it; not those who 
dwell in palaces, but those who dwell in catacombs and 
huts; not those who rule over others, but those who acknow- 
ledge no authority but God's. And the greatest work of art is 
no longer a cathedral of victory 1 with statues of conquerors, 
but the representation of a human soul so transformed by love 
that a man who is tormented and murdered yet pities and 
loves his persecutors. 

And the change is so great that men of the Christian world 
find it difficult to resist the inertia of the heathen art to 
which they have been accustomed all their lives. The subject- 
matter of Christian religious art is so new to them, so unlike 

1 There is in Moscow a magnificent "Cathedral of our Saviour," erected to 
commemorate the defeat of the French in the war of 1812. A. M. 



I 



WHAT IS ART? 285 

the subject-matter of former art, that it seems to them as 
though Christian art were a denial of art, and they cling 
desperately to the old art. But this old art, having no longer 
in our day any source in religious perception, has lost its 
meaning, and we shall have to abandon it whether we wish 
to or not. 

The essence of the Christian perception consists in the 
recognition by every man of his sonship to God, and of the 
consequent union of men with God and with one another, 
as is. said in the Gospel (John xvii. 21 1 ). Therefore the 
subject-matter of Christian art is such feeling as can unite 
men with God and with one another. 

The expression unite men with God and with one another 
may seem obscure to people accustomed to the misuse of these 
words which is so customary, but the words have a perfectly 
clear meaning nevertheless. They indicate that the Christian 
union of man (in contradiction to the partial, exclusive union 
of only some men) is that which unites all without exception. 

Art, all art, has this characteristic, that it unites people. 
Every art causes those to whom the artist's feeling is trans- 
mitted to unite in soul with the artist and also with all who 
receive the same impression. But non-Christian art, while 
uniting some people, makes that very union a cause of separa- 
tion between these united people and others ; so that union of 
this kind is often a source not only of division but even of en- 
mity towards others. Such is all patriotic art, with its an- 
thems, poems, and monuments; such is all Church art, that is, 
the art of certain cults, with their images, statues, processions, 
and other local ceremonies. Such art is belated and non- 
Christian, uniting the people of one cult, only to separate 
them yet more sharply from the members of other cults and 
even to place them in relations of hostility to one another. 

lu That they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that 
they also may be in us." 



286 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Christian art is such only as tends to unite all without ex- 
ception, either by evoking in them the perception that each 
man and all men stand in like relation towards God and 
towards their neighbour, or by evoking in them identical feel- 
ings, which may even be the very simplest provided only 
that they are not repugnant to Christianity and are natural 
to everyone without exception. 

Good Christian art of our time may be unintelligible to 
people because of imperfections in its form or because men 
are inattentive to it, but it must be such that all men can 
experience the feelings it transmits. It must be the art not 
of some one group of people, nor of one class, nor of one 
nationality, nor of one religious cult; that is, it must not 
transmit feelings which are accessible only to a man edu- 
cated in a certain way, or only to an aristocrat, or a merchant, 
or only to a Russian, or a native of Japan, or a Roman 
Catholic, or a Buddhist, and so on, but it must transmit feel- 
ings accessible to everyone. Only art of this kind can be 
acknowledged in our time to be good art, worthy of being 
chosen out from all the rest of art and encouraged. 

Christian art, that is, the art of our time, should be catholic 
in the original meaning of the word, that is, universal, and 
therefore it should unite all men. And only two kinds of 
-7 feeling do unite all men: first, feelings flowing from the per- 
ception of our sonship to God and of the brotherhood of 
man; and next, the simple feelings of common life accessible 
to everyone without exception such as feelings of merriment, 
of pity, of cheerfulness, of tranquillity, and so forth. Only 
these two kinds of feelings can now supply material for art 
good in its subject-matter. 

And the action of these two kinds of art, apparently so 
^dissimilar, is one and the same. The feelings flowing from 
the perception of our sonship to God and of the brotherhood 
of man such as a feeling of sureness in truth, devotion to 






WHAT IS ART? 287 

the will of God, self-sacrifice, respect for and love of man 
evoked by Christian religious perception; and the simplest 
feelings such as a softened or a merry mood caused by a 
song or an amusing jest intelligible to everyone, or by a touch- 
ing story, or a drawing, or a little doll: both alike produce 
one and the same effect, the loving union of man with man. ^ 
Sometimes people who are together, if not hostile to one an- 
other, are, at least estranged in mood and feeling, till perhaps 
a story, a performance, a picture, or even a building, but 
oftenest of all music, unites them all as by an electric flash, 
and in place of their former isolation or even enmity they 
are all conscious of union and mutual love. Each is glad 
that another feels what he feels; glad of the communion 
established not only between him and all present but also 
with all now living who will yet share the same impression; 
and, more than that, he feels the mysterious gladness of a 
communion which, reaching beyond the grave, unites us with 
all men of the past who have been moved by the same feel- 
ings and with all men of the future who will yet be touched 
by them. And this effect is produced both by the religious art 
which transmits feelings of love to God and one's neighbour, 
and by universal art transmitting the very simplest feelings 
common to all men. 

The art of our time should be appraised differently from 
former art chiefly in this, that the art of our time, that is, 
Christian art (basing itself on a religious perception which 
demands the union of man), excludes from the domain of 
art good in its subject-matter everything transmitting exclu- 
sive feelings, which do not unite but divide men. It rele- 
gates such work to the category of art bad in its subject- 
matter, while on the other hand it includes in the category of 
art good in subject-matter a section not formerly admitted a 
deserving to be chosen out and respected, namely, universal art 
transmitting even the most trifling and simple feelings if only 



288 TOLSTOY ON ART 

they are accessible to all men without exception and therefore 
unite them. Such art cannot, in our time, but be esteemed 
good, for it attains the end which the religious perception of 
our time, that is, Christianity, sets before humanity. 

Christian art either evokes in men those feelings which, 
through love of God and of one's neighbour, draw them to 
closer and ever closer union and make them ready for and 
capable of such union ; or evokes in them those feelings which 
show them that they are already united in the joys and sor- 
rows of life. And therefore the Christian art of our time can 
be and is of two kinds: 1) art transmitting feelings flow- 
ing from a religious perception of man's position in the world 
in relation to God and to his neighbour religious art in the 
limited meaning of the term; and 2) art transmitting the 
simplest feelings of common life, but such, always, as are ac- 
cessible to all men in the whole world the art of common 
life the art of a people universal art. Only these two 
kinds of art can be considered good art in our time. 

The first, religious art, transmitting both positive feel- 
ings of love to God and one's neighbour, and negative feelings 
v ; of indignation and horror at the violation of love, manifests 
itself chiefly in the form of words, and to some extent also 
in painting and sculpture: the second kind, universal art, 
transmitting feelings accessible to all, manifests itself in 
words, in painting, in sculpture, in dances, in architecture, 
and, most of all, in music. 

If I were asked to give modern examples of each of these 
kinds of art, then, as examples of the highest art flowing 
from love of God and man (both of the higher, positive and 
of the lower, negative kind), in literature I should name 
The Robbers by Schiller; Victor Hugo's Les Pauvres Gem 
and Les Miser ables; the novels and stories of Dickens The 
Tale of Two Cities, The Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and 
others; Uncle Tom's Cabin: Dostoevski's works especially 




A TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION 
A drawing by I. N. Kramskoy 



WHAT IS ART? 289 

his Memoirs from the House of Death; and Adam Bede by 
George Eliot. 

In modern painting, strange to say, works of this kind, 
directly transmitting the Christian feeling of love of God and 
of one's neighbour, are hardly to be found, especially among 
the works of the celebrated painters. There are plenty of 
pictures treating of the Gospel stories; they however, while 
depicting historical events with great wealth of detail, do not, 
and cannot, transmit religious feelings not possessed by their 
painters. There are many pictures treating of the personal 
feelings of various people, but of pictures representing great 
deeds of self-sacrifice and Christian love there are very few, 
and what there are are principally by artists who are not cele- 
brated, and are for the most part not pictures but merely 
sketches. Such for instance is the drawing by Kramskoy 
(worth many of his finished pictures), showing a drawing- 
room with a balcony, past which troops are marching in tri- 
umph on their return from the war. On the balcony stands 
a wet-nurse holding a baby, and a boy. They are admiring 
the procession of the troops, but the mother, covering her 
face with a handkerchief, has fallen back on the sofa sobbing. 
Such also is the picture by Walter Langley to which I have 
already referred, and such again is a picture by the French 
artist Morion, depicting a lifeboat hastening in a heavy storm 
to the relief of a steamer that is being wrecked. Approach- 
ing these in kind are pictures which represent the hard- 
working peasant with respect and love. Such are the pictures 
by Millet, and particularly his drawing, "The Man with the 
Hoe," also pictures in this style by Jules Breton, Lhermitte, 
Defregger, and others. As examples of pictures evoking in- 
dignation and horror at the violation of love to God and man, 
Gay's picture "Judgment" may serve, and also Leizen- 
Mayer's "Signing the Death Warrant." But there are very 
few of this kind also. Anxiety about the technique and the 



290 TOLSTOY ON ART 

beauty of the picture for the most part obscures the feeling. 
For instance, Gerome's "Pollice Verso" expresses, not so much 
horror at what is being perpetrated as attraction by the beauty 
of the spectacle. 1 

To give examples, from the modern art of our upper classes, 
of art of the second kind, good universal art, or even of the 
art of a whole people, is yet more difficult, especially in litera- 
ture and music. If there are some works which by their 
inner contents might be assigned to this class (such as Don 
Quixote, Moliere's comedies, David Copperfield and The 
Pickwick Papers by Dickens, Gogol's and Pushkin's tales, 
and some things of Maupassant's), these works for the most 
part from the exceptional nature of the feelings they trans- 
mit, and the superfluity of special details of time and locality, 
and above all on account of the poverty of their subject-matter 
in comparison with examples of universal ancient art (such, 
for instance, as the story of Joseph) are comprehensible 
only to people of their own circle. That Joseph's brethren, 
being jealous of his father's affection, sell him to the mer- 
chants; that Potiphar's wife wishes to tempt the youth; that 
having attained the highest station he takes pity on his 
brothers, including Benjamin the favourite, these and all the 
rest are feelings accessible alike to a Russian peasant, a 
Chinese, an African, a child or an old man, educated or un- 
educated; and it is all written with such restraint, is so free 
from any superfluous detail, that the story may be told to any 
circle and will be equally comprehensible and touching to 
everyone. But not such are the feelings of Don Quixote or of 
Moliere's heroes (though Moliere is perhaps the most uni- 
versal, and therefore the most excellent, artist of modern 
times), nor of Pickwick and his friends. These feelings are 
not common to all men but very exceptional, and therefore to 

1 In this picture the spectators in the Roman Amphitheatre are turning down 
their thumbs to show that they wish the vanquished gladiator to be killed. A. M 






WHAT IS ART? 291 

make them contagious the authors have surrounded them 
with abundant details of time and place. And this abun- 
dance of detail makes the stories difficult of comprehension 
to all people not living within reach of the conditions described 
by the author. 

The author of the novel of Joseph did not need to describe 
in detail, as would be done nowadays, the blood-stained coat 
of Joseph, the dwelling and dress of Jacob, the pose and attire 
of Potiphar's wife, and how adjusting the bracelet on her 
left arm she said, "Come to me," and so on, because the con- 
tent of feeling in this novel is so strong that all details except *- 
the most essential such as that Joseph went out into another 
room to weep are superfluous and would only hinder the 
transmission of emotion. And therefore this novel is acces- 
sible to all men, touches people of all nations and classes, 
young and old, and has lasted to our times, and will yet last 
for thousands of years to come. But strip the best novels of 
our time of their details, and what will remain? 

It is therefore impossible in modern literature to indicate 
works fully satisfying the demands of universality. Such 
works as exist are to a great extent spoilt by what is usually 
called "realism," but would be better termed "provincialism," 
in art. 

In music the same occurs as in verbal art and for similar 
reasons. In consequence of the poorness of the feeling they 
contain, the melodies of the modern composers are amazingly 
empty and insignificant. And to strengthen the impression 
produced by these empty melodies, the new musicians pile 
complex modulations on to each trivial melody not only in j 
their own national manner, but also in the way characteristic 
of their own exclusive circle and particular musical school. 
Melody every melody is free and may be understood of all 
men; but as soon as it is bound up with a particular harmony, 
it ceases to be accessible except to people trained to such har- 



292 TOLSTOY ON ART 

mony, and it becomes strange, not only to common men of 
another nationality, but to all who do not belong to the circle 
whose members have accustomed themselves to certain forms 
of harmonisation. So that music, like poetry, travels in a 
vicious circle. Trivial and exclusive melodies, in order to 
make them attractive, are laden with harmonic, rhythmic, and 
orchestral complications and thus become yet more exclusive, 
and far from being universal are not even national, that is, 
they are not comprehensible to the whole people but only 
to some people. 

In music, besides marches and dances by various composers 
which satisfy the demands of universal art, one can indicate 
very few works of this class: Bach's famous violin aria, 
Chopin's nocturne in E flat major, and perhaps a dozen bits 
(not whole pieces, but parts) selected from the works of 
Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and Chopin. 1 

Although in painting the same thing is repeated as in poetry 
and in music namely, in order to make them more interest- 
ing, works weak in conception are surrounded by minutely 
studied accessories of time and place which give them a 
temporary and local interest but make them less universal 
still in painting more than in the other spheres of art may 

1 While offering as examples of art those that seem to me the best, I attach 
no special importance to my selection; for, besides being insufficiently informed 
in ill branches of art, I belong to the class of people whose taste has, by false 
training, been perverted. And therefore my old, inured habits may cause me to 
err, and I may mistake for absolute merit the impression a work produced on 
me in my youth. My only purpose in mentioning examples of works of this 
or that class is to make my meaning clearer, and to show how, with my present 
views, I understand excellence in art in relation to its subject-matter. I must 
moreover mention that I consign my own artistic productions to the category 
of bad art, excepting the story God sees the Truth but Waits, which seeks a place 
in the first class, and The Prisoner of the Caucasus, which belongs to the second. 
L. T. 

(Both the stories mentioned are included in Twenty-Three Tales in the Maude 
Tolstoy "World's Classics" series. A. M.) 



WHAT IS ART? 293 

be found works satisfying the demands of universal Christian 
art; that is to say, there are more works expressing feelings 
in which all men may participate. 

In the arts of painting and sculpture, all pictures and 
statues in so-called genre style, representations of animals, 
landscapes and caricatures with subjects comprehensible to 
everyone, and also all kinds of ornaments, are universal in 
subject-matter. Such productions in painting and sculpture 
are very numerous (for instance, china dolls), but for the 
most part such objects (for instance, ornaments of all kinds) 
are either not considered to be art or are considered to be art 
of a low quality. In reality all such objects, if only they 
transmit a true feeling experienced by the artist and compre- 
hensible to everyone (however insignificant it may seem to us 
to be), are works of real, good, Christian art. 

I fear it will here be urged against me, that having denied 
that the conception of beauty can supply a standard for works 
of art, I contradict myself by acknowledging ornaments to be 
works of good art. The reproach is unjust, for the subject- 
matter of all kinds of ornamentation consists not in the 
beauty but in the feeling (of admiration at, and delight in, the 
combination of lines and colours) which the artist has ex- 
perienced, and with which he infects the spectator. Art re- 
mains what it was and what it must be : nothing but the infec- 
tion by one man of another or of others with the feelings ex- 
perienced by the infector. Among those feelings is the feel- 
ing of delight at what pleases the sight. Objects pleasing the 
sight may be such as please a small or a large number of peo- 
ple, or such as please all men. And ornaments for the most 
part are of the latter kind. A landscape representing a very 
unusual view, or a genre picture of a special subject, may 
not please everyone, but ornaments, from Yakutsk ornaments 
to Greek ones, are intelligible to everyone and evoke a 



294 TOLSTOY ON ART 

similar feeling of admiration in all, and therefore this de- 
spised kind of art should in Christian society be esteemed far 
above exceptional pretentious pictures and sculptures. 

So that there are only two kinds of good Christian art: all 
the rest of art not comprised in these two divisions should be 
acknowledged to be bad art, deserving, not to be encouraged 
but to be driven out, denied, and despised, as being art not 
uniting but dividing people. Such in literary art are all 
novels and poems which transmit ecclesiastical or patriotic 
feelings and also exclusive feelings pertaining only to the 
class of the idle rich: such as aristocratic honour, satiety, 
spleen, pessimism, and refined and vicious feelings flowing 
from sex-love quite incomprehensible to the great majority 
of mankind. 

In painting, we must similarly place in the class of bad art 
all ecclesiastical, patriotic, and exclusive pictures; all pic- 
tures representing the amusements and allurements of a rich 
and idle life; all so-called symbolic pictures, in which the 
very meaning of the symbol is comprehensible only to the 
people of a certain circle; and above all pictures with volup- 
tuous subjects all that odious female nudity which fills all 
the exhibitions and galleries. And to this class belongs 
almost all the chamber and opera music of our times, be- 
ginning especially with Beethoven (Schumann, Berlioz, Liszt, 
Wagner), by its subject-matter devoted to the expression of 
feelings accessible only to people who have developed in 
themselves an unhealthy nervous irritation evoked by this ex- 
clusive, artificial, and complex music. 

"What! the Ninth Symphony not a good work of art! " I 
hear exclaimed by indignant voices. 

And I reply: Most certainly it is not. All that I have 
written I have written with the sole purpose of finding a clear 
and reasonable criterion by which to judge the merits of works 



I 



WHAT IS ART? 295 



of art. And this criterion, coinciding with the indications of 
plain and sane sense, indubitably shows me that that sym- 
phony of Beethoven's is not a good work of art. Of course, 
to people educated in the worship of certain productions and 
of their authors, to people whose taste has been perverted just 
by being educated in such a worship, the acknowledgment 
that such a celebrated work is bad is amazing and strange. 
But how are we to escape the indications of reason and com- 
mon sense? #f **""?&> a^*6* _f_i!? " 

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is considered a great work 
of art. To verify its claim to be such I must first ask my- 
self whether this work transmits the highest religious feeling? 
I reply in the negative, for music in itself cannot transmit 
those feelings; and therefore I ask myself next, Since this 
work does not belong to the highest kind of religious art, has 
it the other characteristic of the good art of our time, the 
quality of uniting all men in one common feeling: does it 
rank as Christian universal art? And again I have no op- 
tion but to reply in the negative ; for not only do I not see how 
the feelings transmitted by this work could unite people not 
specially trained to submit themselves to its complex hypno- 
tism, but I am unable to imagine to myself a crowd of normal 
people who could understand anything of this long, confused, 
and artificial production, except short snatches which are 
lost in a sea of what is incomprehensible. And therefore, 
whether I like it or not, I am compelled to conclude that 
this work belongs to the rank of bad art. It is curious to note 
in this connection, that attached to the end of this very sym- 
phony is a poem of Schiller's which (though somewhat ob- 
scurely) expresses this very thought, namely, that feeling 
(Schiller speaks only of the feeling of gladness) unites people 
and evokes love in them. But though this poem is sung at the 
end of the symphony, the music does not accord with the 



296 TOLSTOY ON ART 

thought expressed in the verses; for the music is exclusive 
and does not unite all men, but unites only a few, dividing 
them off from the rest of mankind. 

And just in this same way, in all branches of art, many and 
many works considered great by the upper classes of our 
society will have to be judged. By this one sure criterion 
we shall have to judge the celebrated Divine Comedy and 
Jerusalem Delivered, and a great part of Shakespeare's and 
Goethe's work, and in painting every representation of mir- 
acles, including Raphael's Transfiguration, etc. 

Whatever the work may be and however it may have been 
extolled, we have first to ask whether this work is one of real 
art or a counterfeit. Having acknowledged, on the basis of 
the indication of its infectiousness even to a small class of 
people, that a certain production belongs to the realm of art, 
it is necessary, on this basis to decide the next question, Does 
this work belong to the category of bad exclusive art, opposed 
to religious perception, or to Christian art, uniting people? 
And having acknowledged a work to belong to real Christian 
art, we must then, according to whether it transmits the feel- 
ings flowing from love to God and man or merely the simple 
feelings uniting all men, assign it a place in the ranks of 
religious art or in those of universal art. 

Only on the basis of such verification shall we find it 
possible to select, from the whole mass of what in our society 
claims to be art, those works which form real, important, nec- 
essary spiritual food, and to separate them from all the harm- 
ful and useless art and from the counterfeits of art which sur- 
round us. Only on the basis of such verification shall we 
be able to rid ourselves of the pernicious results of harmful 
art and avail ourselves of that beneficient action which is 
the purpose of true and good art, and which is indispensable 
for the spiritual life of man and of humanity. 



CHAPTER XVII 

Results of absence of true art. Results of perversion of art: labour and lives 
spent on what is useless and harmful. The abnormal life of the rich. Per- 
plexity of children and plain folk. Confusion of right and wrong. Nietzsche 
and Redbeard. Superstition, Patriotism, and Sensuality. 

Art is one of two organs of human progress. By words 
man interchanges thoughts, by the forms of art he interchanges 
feelings, and this with all men not only of the present time but 
also of the past and the future. It is natural to human be- 
ings to employ both these organs of intercommunication and 
therefore the perversion of either of them must cause evil re- 
sults to the society in which it occurs. And these results will 
be of two kinds: first, the absence in that society of the work 
which should be performed by the organ, and secondly, the 
harmful activity of the perverted organ. And just these re- 
sults have shown themselves in our society. The organ of art 
has been perverted, and therefore the upper classes of society 
have to a great extent been deprived of the effect that it should 
have produced. The diffusion in our society of enormous 
quantities, on the one hand, of those counterfeits of art which 
only serve to amuse and corrupt people, and on the other 
hand, of works of insignificant exclusive art, mistaken for the 
highest art, have perverted most men's capacity to be in- 
fected by true works of art, and have thus deprived them of 
the possibility of experiencing the highest feelings to which 
mankind has attained, which can only be transmitted from 
man to man by art. 

All the best that has been done in art by man remains 
strange to people who lack the capacity to be infected by 
art, and is replaced either by spurious counterfeits of art or 

297 



v 



298 TOLSTOY ON ART 

by insignificant art, which they mistake for real art. People 
of our time and of our society are delighted with Baudelaires, 
Verlaines, Moreases, Ibsens, and Maeterlincks, in poetry; with 
Monets, Manets, Puvis de Chavannes, Burne-Joneses, Stucks, 
and Bocklins in painting; with Wagners, Liszts, Richard 
Strausses, in music; and they are no longer capable of com- 
prehending either the highest or the simplest art. 

In the upper classes, in consequence of this loss of capacity 
to be infected by works of art, people grow up, are edu- 
cated and live, lacking the fertilising, improving influence of 
art, and therefore not only do not advance towards perfection, 
do not become kinder, but, on the contrary, possessing highly- 
developed external means of civilization, they yet tend to be- 
come continually more savage, more coarse, and more cruel. 

Such is the result of the absence from our society of the 
activity of that essential organ art. But the consequences of 
the perverted activity of that organ are yet more harmful. 
And they are numerous. 

The first consequence, plain for all to see, is the enormous 
expenditure of the labour of working people on things which 
are not only useless but, for the most part, are harmful; and 
more than that, the waste of priceless human lives on this 
unnecessary and harmful business. It is terrible to consider 
with what intensity and amid what privations, millions of 
people who lack time and opportunity to attend to what they 
and their families urgently require labour for ten, twelve or 
fourteen hours on end, and even at night, setting the type for 
pseudo-artistic books which spread vice among mankind, or 
working for theatres, concerts, exhibitions, and picture gal- 
leries, which for the most part also serve vice; but it is yet 
more terrible to reflect that lively, kindly children, capable 
of all that is good, are devoted from their early years to such 
tasks as these : that for six, eight, or ten hours a day, and for 
ten or fifteen years, some of them should play scales and ex- 




THE ANGELS AT THE TOMB OF CHRIST" 

By E. Manet 

An example of a sort of picture Tolstoy disliked 



WHAT IS ART? 299 

ercises; others should twist their limbs, walk on their toes, 
and lift their legs above their heads; a third set should sing 
solfeggios ; a fourth set, showing themselves off in all manner 
of ways, should recite verses; a fifth set should draw from 
busts or from nude models and paint studies; a sixth set 
should write compositions according to the rules of certain 
periods; and that in these occupations, unworthy of a human 
being, which are often continued long after full maturity, they 
should waste their physical and mental strength and lose all 
perception of the meaning of life. It is often said that it is 
horrible and pitiful to see little acrobats putting their legs over 
their necks, but it is not less pitiful to see children of ten giv- 
ing concerts, and it is still worse to see schoolboys of ten who 
as a preparation for literary work have learnt by heart the ex- 
ceptions to the Latin grammar. These people not only grow 
physically and mentally deformed but also morally deformed, 
and become incapable of doing anything really needed by 
man. Occupying in society the role of amusers of the rich, 
they lose their sense of human dignity and develop in them- 
selves such a passion for public applause that they are al- 
ways a prey to an inflated and unsatisfied vanity which grows 
in them to diseased dimensions, and they expend their mental 
strength in efforts to obtain satisfaction for this passion. 
And what is most tragic of all is that these people, who for 
the sake of art are spoilt for life, not only do not render 
service to this art, but on the contrary inflict the greatest harm 
on it. They are taught in academies, schools, and conserva- 
toires, how to counterfeit art, and by learning this they so per- 
vert themselves that they quite lose the capacity to produce 
works of real art, and become purveyors of that counterfeit, or 
trivial, or depraved, art which floods our society. This is the 
first obvious consequence of the perversion of the organ of 
art. 

The second consequence is that the productions of amuse- 



300 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ment-art, which are prepared in such terrific quantities by the 
armies of professional artists, enable the rich people of our 
times to live the lives they do, lives not only unnatural, but in 
contradiction to the humane principles these people them- 
selves profess. To live as do the idle rich people, especially 
the women, far from nature and from animals, in artificial 
conditions, with muscles atrophied or misdeveloped by gym- 
v nasties, and with enfeebled vital energy, would be impossible 
were it not for what is called art for this occupation and 
amusement which hides from them the meaninglessness of 
their lives and saves them from the dulness that oppresses 
them. Take from all these people the theatres, concerts, ex- 
hibitions, piano-playing, songs, and novels, with which they 
now fill their time in full confidence that occupation with these 
things is a very refined, esthetic, and therefore good occupa- 
tion; take from the patrons of art who buy pictures, assist 
musicians, and are acquainted with writers, their role of pro- 
tectors of that important matter art, and they will not be able 
to continue such a life, but will all be eaten up by ennui and 
spleen, and will become conscious of the meaninglessness and 
wrongfulness of their present mode of life. Only occupation 
with what among them is considered art renders it possible 
for them to continue to live on, infringing all natural con- 
ditions, without perceiving the emptiness and cruelty of their 
lives. And this support afforded to the false manner of life 
pursued by the rich is the second consequence, and a serious 
one, of the perversion of art. 

The third consequence of the perversion of art is the per- 
plexity produced in the minds of children and plain folk. 
Among people not perverted by the false theories of our 
society, among workers and children, there exists a very def- 
inite conception of why people should be respected and 
praised. In the minds of peasants and children the ground 
for praise or eulogy can only be either physical strength: 



WHAT IS ART? 301 



Hercules, the heroes and conquerors; or moral, spiritual, 
strength: Sakya Muni giving up a beautiful wife and a 
kingdom to save mankind, Christ going to the cross for the 
truth he professed, and all the martyrs and the saints. Both 
are understood by peasants and children. They understand 
that physical strength must be respected, for it compels 
respect; and the moral strength of goodness an unperverted 
man cannot fail to respect, because his whole spiritual being 
draws him towards it. But these people, children and 
peasants, suddenly perceive that besides those praised, re- 
spected, and rewarded for physical or moral strength, there are 
others who are praised extolled and rewarded much more 
than the heroes of strength and virtue, merely because they 
sing well, compose verses, or dance. They see that singers, 
composers, painters, ballet-dancers, earn millions of roubles 
and receive more honour than the saints do: and peasants 
and children are perplexed. 

When fifty years had elapsed after Pushkin's death and, 
simultaneously, the cheap editions of his works began to cir- 
culate among the people and a monument was erected to him 
in Moscow, I received more than a dozen letters from different 
peasants asking why Pushkin was raised to such dignity? 
And only the other day a literate * man from Saratov called 
on me who had evidently gone out of his mind over this very 
question. He was on his way to Moscow to expose the clergy 
for having taken part in raising a monument to Mr. Pushkin. 

Indeed, one need only imagine to oneself what the state of 
mind of such a man of the people must be when he learns 
from such rumours and newspapers as reach him, that the 
clergy, Government officials, and all the best people in Russia, 
are triumphantly unveiling a statue to a great man, the bene- 

1 In Russian it is customary to make a distinction between literate and illit- 
erate people, that is, between those who can and those who cannot read. Literate 
in this sense does not imply that the man would speak or write correctly. A. M. 



302 TOLSTOY ON ART 

factor, the pride of Russia Pushkin, of whom till then he 
had never heard. On all sides he reads or hears about this, 
and he naturally supposes that if such honours are rendered 
to anyone, then without doubt he must have done something 
extraordinary either some feat of strength or of goodness. 
He tries to learn who Pushkin was, and having discovered 
that Pushkin was neither a hero nor a general but a private 
person and a writer, he comes to the conclusion that Pushkin 
must have been a holy man and a teacher of goodness, and he 
hastens to read or to hear his life and works. But what must 
be his perplexity when he learns that Pushkin was a man of 
more than easy morals, who was killed in a duel when at- 
tempting to murder another man, and that all his service con- 
sisted in writing verses about love, which were often very 
indecent. 

That a hero, or Alexander the Great, or Genghis Khan, or 
Napoleon, was great, he understands, because any one of 
them could have crushed him and a thousand like him; that 
Buddha, Socrates, and Christ, were great he also understands, 
for he knows and feels that he and all men should be such 
as they were ; but why a man should be great because he wrote 
verses about the love of women he cannot make out. 

A similar perplexity must trouble the brain of a Breton or 
Normandy peasant who hears that a monument, "une statue" 
(as to the Madonna), is being erected to Baudelaire, and 
reads, or is told, what the contents of his Fleurs du Mai are; 
or, more amazing still, to Verlaine, when he learns the story 
of that man's wretched, vicious life, and reads his verses. 
And what confusion it must cause in the brains of peasants 
when they learn that some Patti or Taglioni is paid 10,000 
for a season, or that a painter gets as much for a picture, or 
that authors of novels describing love-scenes have received 
even more than that. 

And it is the same with children. I remember how I passed 






WHAT IS ART? 303 

through this stage of amazement and stupefaction and only 
reconciled myself to this exaltation of artists to the level 
of heroes and saints by lowering in my own estimation the 
importance of moral excellence and by attributing a false, 
unnatural meaning to works of art. And a similar confusion 
must occur in the soul of each child and each man of the peo- 
ple when he learns of the strange honours and rewards that 
are lavished on artists. This is the third consequence of the 
false relation in which our society stands towards art. 

The fourth consequence is that people of the upper classes, 
more and more frequently encountering the contradictions 
between beauty and goodness, put the ideal of beauty first, 
thus freeing themselves from the demands of morality. 
These people, reversing the roles, instead of admitting, as is 
really the case, that the art they serve is an antiquated affair, 
allege that morality is an antiquated affair which can have no 
importance for people situated on that high plane of develop- 
ment w T hich they opine that they occupy. 

This result of the false relation to art showed itself in our 
society long ago ; but recently, with its prophet Nietzsche and 
his adherents, and with the decadents and certain English 
esthetes who coincide with him, it is being expressed with 
especial impudence. The Decadents, and esthetes of the type 
at one time represented by Oscar Wilde, select as a theme for 
their productions the denial of morality and the laudation of 
vice. 

This art has partly generated and partly coincides with a 
similar philosophic theory. I recently received from America 
a book entitled The Survival of the Fittest: Philosophy of 
Power, 1896, by Ragner Redbeard, Chicago. The substance 
of this book, as it is expressed in the editor's preface, is that 
to measure right by the false philosophy of the Hebrew 
prophets and weepful Messiahs is madness. Right is not the 
offspring of doctrine, but of power. All laws, command- 



304 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ments, or doctrines as to not doing to another what you do not 
wish done to you, have no inherent authority whatever, but 
receive it only from the club, the gallows, and the sword. A 
man truly free is under no obligation to obey any injunction, 
human or divine. Obedience is the sign of the degenerate. 
Disobedience is the stamp of the hero. Men should not be 
bound by moral rules invented by their foes. The whole 
world is a slippery battlefield. Ideal justice demands that 
the vanquished should be exploited, emasculated, and scorned. 
The free and brave may seize the world. And therefore there 
should be eternal war for life, for land, for love, for women, 
for power, and for gold. (Something similar was said a 
few years ago by the celebrated and refined academician, de 
Vogue.) The earth with its treasures is booty for the bold. 

The author has evidently by himself, independently of 
Nietzsche, come to the same conclusions which are professed 
by the new artists. 

Expressed in the form of a doctrine these positions startle 
us. In reality they are implied in the ideal of art serving 
beauty. The art of our upper classes has educated people 
in this ideal of the superman, which is in reality the old 
ideal of Nero, Stenka, Razin, 1 Genghis Khan, Robert Ma- 
caire, 2 or Napoleon, and all their accomplices, assistants, 

1 Stenka Razin was by origin a common Cossack. His brother was hanged for 
a breach of military discipline, and to this event Stenka Razin's hatred of the 
governing classes has been attributed. He formed a robber band, and sub- 
sequently headed a formidable rebellion, declaring himself in favour of freedom 
for the serfs, religious toleration, and the abolition of taxes. Like the Govern- 
ment he opposed, he relied on force, and though he used it largely in defence 
of the poor against the rich he still held to 

"The good old rule, the simple plan, 
That they should take who have the power, 
And they should keep who can." 

Like Robin Hood he is favourably treated in popular legends. A. M. 

2 Robert Macaire is a modern type of adroit and audacious rascality. He was 
the hero of a popular play produced in Paris in 1834, and of one written by 
R. L. Stevenson and W. E. Henley, 1897. A. M. 



WHAT IS ART? 305 

and adulators, and it supports this ideal with all its might. 

It is this supplanting of the ideal of what is right by the 
ideal of what is beautiful, that is, of what is pleasant, that is 
the fourth consequence and a terrible one of the perversion 
of art in our society. It is fearful to think of what would be- 
fall humanity were such art to spread among the masses of 
the people. And it already begins to spread. 

Finally, the fifth and chief result is that the art which 
flourishes in the upper classes of European society has a 
directly vitiating influence, infecting people with the worst 
feelings and with those most harmful to humanity supersti- 
tion, patriotism, and, above all, sensuality. 

Look carefully into the causes of the ignorance of the 
masses and you may see that the chief cause does not at all 
lie in the lack of schools and libraries, as we are accustomed 
to suppose, but in those superstitions, both ecclesiastical and 
patriotic, with which the people are saturated and which are 
unceasingly generated by all the methods of art. Church 
superstitions are supported and produced by the poetry of 
prayers, hymns, paintings, by the sculpture of images and of 
statues, by singing, by organs, by music, by architecture, and 
even by dramatic art in religious ceremonies. Patriotic 
superstitions are supported and produced by verses and stories 
(which are supplied even in schools), by music, by songs, by 
triumphal processions, by royal meetings, by martial pictures, 
and by monuments. 

Were it not for this continual activity in all departments 
of art, perpetuating the ecclesiastical and patriotic intoxi- 
cation and embitterment of the people, the masses would long 
ere this have attained to true enlightenment. 

But it is not only in Church matters and patriotic matters 
that art depraves; it is art in our time that serves as the 
chief cause of the perversion of people in the most important 
question of social life in their sexual relations. We nearly 



306 TOLSTOY ON ART 

all know by our own experience, and those who are fathers 
and mothers know in the case of their grown-up children 
also, what fearful mental and physical suffering, what useless 
waste of strength, people suffer merely as a consequence of 
dissoluteness in sexual desire. 

Since the world began, since the Trojan war which sprang 
from that same sexual dissoluteness, down to and including 
the suicides and murders of lovers described in almost every 
newspaper, a great proportion of the sufferings of the human 
race have come from this source. 

And what is art doing? All art, real and counterfeit, with 
very few exceptions, is devoted to describing, depicting, and 
inflaming, sexual love in every shape and form. If one re- 
members all those novels and their lust-kindling descriptions 
of love, from the most refined to the grossest, with which the 
literature of our society overflows; if one only remembers all 
those pictures and statues representing women's naked bodies, 
and all sorts of abominations, which are reproduced in illus- 
trations and advertisements; if one only remembers all the 
filthy operas and operettas, songs and ballads, with which our 
world teems, involuntarily it seems as if existing art had but 
one definite aim to disseminate vice as widely as possible. 

Such are the most direct though not all the consequences of 
that perversion of art which has occurred in our society. So 
that what in our society is called art not only does not con- 
duce to the progress of mankind, but more than almost any- 
thing else hinders the attainment of goodness in our lives. 

And therefore the question which involuntarily presents 
itself to every man free from artistic activity and not bound 
to existing art by self-interest, the question asked by me at 
the beginning of this work: Is it just that to what we call 
art, to a something possessed by but a small section of society, 
should be offered up such sacrifices of human labour, of hu- 



WHAT IS ART? 307 



man lives, and of goodness, as are now being offered up? re- 
ceives the natural reply: No; it is unjust, and these things 
should not be! Such is also the answer of sound sense and 
unperverted moral feeling. Not only should these things not 
be, not only should no sacrifices be offered up to what among 
us is called art, but, on the contrary, the efforts of those who 
wish to live rightly should be directed towards the destruction 
of this art, for it is one of the most cruel of the evils that harass 
our section of humanity. So that were the question put: 
Would it be preferable for our Christian world to be deprived 
of all that is now esteemed to be art, and together with the 
false to lose all that is good in it? I think that every reason- 
able and moral man would again decide the question as Plato 
decided it for his Republic, and as all the early Church- 
Christian and Mahommedan teachers of mankind decided 
it, that is, would say, Rather let there be no art at all than 
continue the depraving art, or simulation of art, which now 
exists. Happily no one has to face this question and no 
one need adopt either solution. All that man can do, and 
that we the so-called educated people who are so placed that 
we have the possibility of understanding the meaning of the 
phenomena of our life can and should do, is to understand 
the error we are involved in, and not harden our hearts in it, 
out seek for a way of escape. 



CHAPTER XVIII 

The purpose of human life is the brotherly union of man. Art must be guided 
by this perception. 

The cause of the lie into which the art of our society has 
fallen was that people of the upper classes, having ceased to 
believe in the Church teaching (called Christian), did not re- 
solve to accept true Christian teaching in its real and funda- 
mental principles of sonship to God and brotherhood to man, 
but continued to live on without any belief, endeavouring to 
make up for the absence of belief some by hypocrisy, pre- 
tending still to believe in the nonsense of the Church creeds; 
others by boldly asserting their disbelief; others by refined 
agnosticism; and others, again, by returning to the Greek 
worship of beauty, proclaiming egotism to be right, and ele- 
vating it to the rank of a religious doctrine. 

The cause of the malady was the non-acceptance of Christ's 
teaching in its real, that is, its full, meaning. And the only 
cure lies in acknowledging that teaching in its full meaning. 
Such acknowledgement in our time is not only possible but in- 
evitable. Already to-day a man standing on the height of 
the knowledge of our age, whether he be nominally a Catholic 
or a Protestant, cannot say that he really believes in the 
dogmas of the Church : in God being a Trinity, in Christ be- 
ing God, in the Scheme of Redemption, and so forth; nor can 
he satisfy himself by proclaiming his unbelief or scepticism, 
nor by relapsing into the worship of beauty and egotism. 
Above all he can no longer say that we do not know the real 
meaning of Christ's teaching. That meaning has not only 
become accessible to all men of our times, but the whole life 



WHAT IS ART? 309 

)f man to-day is permeated by the spirit of that teaching and 
consciously or unconsciously is guided by it. 

However differently in form people belonging to our 
Christian world may define the destiny of man : whether they 
see it in human progress (in whatever sense of the words), in 
the union of all men in a socialistic realm, or in the establish- 
ment of a commune; whether they look forward to the union 
of mankind under the guidance of one universal Church, or 
to the federation of the world however various in form their 
definitions of the destination of human life may be, all men 
in our times already admit that the highest well-being attain- 
able by men is to be reached by their union with one another. 

However people of our upper classes (feeling that their 
ascendency can only be maintained as long as they separate 
themselves the rich and learned from the labourers, the 
poor, and the unlearned) may seek to devise new conceptions 
of life by which their privileges may be perpetuated now the 
ideal of returning to antiquity, now mysticism, now Hellenism, 
now the cult of the superior person (supermanism) they 
have, willingly or unwillingly, to admit the truth which is be- 
coming clear upon all sides voluntarily and involuntarily, 
namely, that our welfare lies only in the union and brother- 
hood of man. 

Unconsciously this truth is confirmed by the construction 
of means of communication, telegraphs, telephones, the 
press, and the ever-increasing attainability of material well- 
being for everyone and consciously it is affirmed by the 
destruction of superstitions which divide men, by the diffusion 
of the truths of knowledge, and by the expression of the ideal 
of the brotherhood of man in the best works of art of our time. 

Art is a spiritual organ of human life which cannot be 
destroyed, and therefore, notwithstanding all the efforts made 
by people of the upper classes to conceal the religious ideal by 
which humanity lives, that ideal is more and more clearly rec- 



310 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ognised by man, and even in our perverted society is more and 
more often partially expressed by science and by art. During 
the present century works of the higher kind of religious art, 
permeated by a truly Christian spirit, have appeared more 
and more frequently both in literature and in painting, as 
also works of the universal art of common life accessible to all. 
So that even art knows the true ideal of our times and tends 
towards it. On the one hand, the best works of art of our 
time transmit religious feelings urging towards the union 
and the brotherhood of man (such are the works of Dickens, 
Hugo, Dostoevski; and, in painting, of Millet, Bastien Le- 
page, Jules Breton, Lhermitte, and others) ; on the other hand, 
they strive towards the transmission, not of feelings which 
are natural to people of the upper classes only, but of such 
feelings as may unite everyone without exception. There 
are as yet few such works, but the need of them is already 
acknowledged. In recent times we also meet more and more 
frequently with attempts at publications, pictures, concerts, 
and theatres, for the people. All this is still very far from 
accomplishing what should be done, but already the direction 
in which good art instinctively presses forward to regain 
the path natural to it can be discerned. 

The religious perception of our time which consists in 
acknowledging that the aim of life (both collective and in- 
dividual) is the union of mankind is already so sufficiently 
distinct that people have now only to reject the false theory 
of beauty, according to which enjoyment is considered to be 
the purpose of art, and religious perception will naturally 
take its place as the guide of the art of our time. 

And as soon as this religious perception which already un- 
consciously directs the life of man is consciously acknow- 
ledged, then immediately and naturally the division of art into 
art for the lower and art for the upper classes will disappear. 
There will be one common, brotherly, universal art; and then 



WHAT IS ART? 311 

first, that art will naturally be rejected which transmits feel- 
ings incompatible with the religious perception of our time 
feelings which do not unite, but divide men and later that 
insignificant, exclusive art will be rejected to which an un- 
merited importance is now attributed. 

And as soon as this occurs, art will immediately cease to 
be, what it has been in recent times, a means of making people 
coarser and more vicious, and it will become what it always 
used to be and should be, a means by which humanity pro- 
gresses towards unity and blessedness. 

Strange as the comparison may sound, what has happened 
to the art of our circle and time is what happens to a woman 
who sells her womanly attractiveness, intended for maternity, 
for the pleasure of those who desire such pleasures. 

The art of our time and of our circle has become a pros- 
titute. And this comparison holds good even in minute 
details. Like her it is not limited to certain times, like her 
it is always adorned, like her it is always saleable, and like 
her it is enticing and ruinous. 

A real work of art can only arise in the soul of an artist 
occasionally, as the fruit of the life he has lived, just as a 
child is conceived by its mother. But counterfeit art is 
produced by artisans and handicraftsmen continually, if only 
consumers can be found. 

Real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs 
no ornaments. But counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must 
always be decked out. 

The cause of the production of real art is the artist's inner 
need to express a feeling that has accumulated, just as for a 
mother the cause of sexual conception was love. The cause 
of counterfeit art, as of prostitution, is gain. 

The consequence of true art is the introduction of a new 
feeling into the intercourse of life, as the consequence of a 
wife's love is the birth of a new man into life. 



312 TOLSTOY ON ART 

The consequences of counterfeit art are the perversion of 
man, pleasure which never satisfies, and the weakening of 
man's spiritual strength. 

And this is what people of our day and of our circle 
should understand, in order to avoid the filthy torrent of 
depraved and prostituted art with which we are deluged. 



CHAPTER XIX 

The art of the future not the possession of a select minority, but a means 
towards perfection and unity. 

People talk of the art of the future, meaning by art of 
the future some especially refined new art which they imagine 
will be developed out of that exclusive art of one class which 
is now considered the highest art. But no such new art of 
the future can or will be found. Our exclusive art, that of 
the upper classes of Christendom, has found its way into a 
blind alley. The direction in which it has been going leads 
nowhere. Having once let go of that which is most essential 
for art (namely, the guidance given by religious perception), 
that art has become ever more and more exclusive and there- 
fore ever more and more perverted, until finally it has come 
to nothing. The art of the future, that which is really com- 
ing, will not be a development of present-day art but will 
arise on completely other and new foundations having nothing 
in common with those by which our present art of the upper 
classes is guided. 

Art of the future, that is to say, such part of art as shall 
be chosen from among all the art diffused among mankind, 
will consist, not in transmitting feelings accessible only to 
members of the rich classes as is the case to-day, but in trans- 
mitting feelings that embody the highest religious per- 
ception of our times. Only those productions will be con- 
sidered art which transmit feelings drawing men together " 
in brotherly union, or such universal feelings as can unite 
all men. Only such art will be chosen, tolerated, approved, 

313 



314 TOLSTOY ON ART 

and diffused. But art transmitting feelings flowing from 
antiquated, worn-out religious teaching, ecclesiastical art, 
patriotic art, voluptuous art, transmitting feelings of super- 
stitious fear, of pride, of vanity, of ecstatic admiration of 
national heroes, art exciting exclusive love of one's own peo- 
ple, or sensuality, will be considered bad, harmful art, and 
will be censured and despised by public opinion. All the rest 
of art, transmitting feelings accessible only to a section of peo- 
ple, will be considered unimportant and will be neither 
blamed nor praised. And the appraisement of art in general 
will devolve, not as is now the case on a separate class of rich 
people, but on the whole people; so that for a work to be 
thought good, and to be approved and diffused, it will 
have to satisfy the demands, not of a few people living under 
similar and often unnatural conditions but of all those great 
masses of people who undergo the natural conditions of 
laborious life. 

Nor will the artists producing the art be, as now, merely a 
few people selected from a small section of the nation, mem- 
bers of the upper classes or their hangers-on, but they will 
consist of all those gifted members of the whole people who 
prove capable of, and have a leaning towards, artistic activity. 

Artistic activity will then be accessible to all men. It will 
become accessible to the whole people because (in the first 
place) in the art of the future not only will that complex 
technique which deforms the productions of the art of to-day 
and requires so great an effort and expenditure of time not be 
demanded, but on the contrary the demand will be for clear- 
ness, simplicity, and brevity conditions brought about not by 
mechanical methods but through the education of taste. And 
secondly, artistic activity will become accessible to all men of 
the people because, instead of the present professional schools 
which only some can enter, all will learn music and graphic 
art (singing and drawing) equally with letters, in the ele- 



WHAT IS ART? 315 

mentary schools, in such a way that every man, having re- 
ceived the first principles of drawing and music and feeling 
a capacity for, and a call to, one or other of the arts, will be 
able to perfect himself in it. 

People think that if there are no special art-schools the 
technique of art will deteriorate. Undoubtedly if by tech- 
nique we understand those complexities of art which are now 
considered an excellence, it will deteriorate; but if by tech- 
nique is understood clearness, beauty, simplicity, and com- 
pression, in works of art, then even if the elements of draw- 
ing and music were not to be taught in the national schools, 
the technique will not only not deteriorate but, as is shown 
by all peasant art, will be a hundred times better. It will be 
improved because all the artists of genius now hidden among 
the masses will become producers- of art and supply models of 
excellence which (as has always been the case) will be the 
best schools of technique for their successors. For every true 
artist even now learns his technique chiefly, not in the schools, 
but in life, from the examples of the great masters; then 
when art will be produced by the best artists of the whole 
nation and there will be more such examples and they will 
be more accessible such part of school training as the future 
artist will lose will be a hundredfold compensated for by 
the training he will receive from the numerous examples of 
good art diffused in society. 

Such will be one difference between present and future 
art. Another difference will be that art will not be produced 
by professional artists receiving payment for their work and 
engaged on nothing else besides their art. The art of the 
future will be produced by all the members of the community 
who feel the need of such activity, but they will occupy them- 
selves with art only when they feel such need. 

In our society people think that an artist will work better 
and produce more if he has a secured maintenance. And 



316 TOLSTOY ON ART 

this opinion would prove once more quite clearly, were such 
proof yet needed, that what among us is considered art is not 
art but only a counterfeit. It is quite true that for the pro- 
duction of boots or loaves division of labour is very advan- 
tageous, and that the bootmaker or baker who need not pre- 
pare his own dinner or fetch his own fuel will make more 
boots or loaves than if he had to busy himself with these 
matters. But art is not a handicraft ; it is the transmission of 
feeling the artist has experienced. And sound feeling can 
only be engendered in a man when he is living in all respects a 
life natural and proper to man. And therefore security of 
maintenance is a condition most harmful to an artist's true 
productiveness, since it removes him from the condition 
natural to all men that of struggle with nature for the main- 
tenance of both his own life and that of others and thus 
deprives him of the opportunity and the possibility of ex- 
periencing the most important and most natural feelings of 
man. There is no position more injurious to an artist's pro- 
ductiveness than that position of complete security and luxury 
in which artists usually live in our society. 

The artist of the future will live the common life of man, 
earning his subsistence by some kind of labour. The fruits 
of that highest spiritual strength which passes through him 
he will try to share with the greatest possible number of peo- 
ple, for in such transmission to others of the feelings that 
have arisen in him he will find his happiness and reward. 
The artist of the future will be unable to understand how an 
artist, whose chief delight is in the wide diffusion of his 
works, could give them only in exchange for a certain 
payment. 

Until the dealers are driven out, the temple of art will not 
be a temple. But the art of the future will drive them out. 

And therefore the subject-matter of the art of the future, 
as I imagine it to myself, will be totally unlike that of to-day. 



WHAT IS ART? 317 

It will consist, not in the expression of exclusive feelings: 
pride, spleen, satiety, and all possible forms of voluptuous- 
ness, available and interesting only to people who have freed 
themselves by force from the labour natural to human beings ; 
but it will consist in the expression of feelings flowing from 
the religious perception of our times, or open to all men 
without exception and experienced by a man living a life 
natural to all men. 

To people of our circle who do not know and cannot or 
will not understand the feelings which will form the subject- 
matter of the art of the future, such subject-matter appears 
very poor in comparison with those subtleties of exclusive art 
with which they are now occupied. "What is there fresh to 
be said about the Christian feeling of love to one's fellow- 
man?" "The feelings common to everyone are so insignifi- 
cant and monotonous," think they. And yet in our time 
the really fresh feelings can only be religious, Christian feel- 
ings, and such as are open and accessible to all. The feel- 
ings flowing from the religious perception of our times, Chris- 
tian feelings, are infinitely new and varied, only not in the 
sense some people imagine, not because they can be evoked 
by depicting Christ and Gospel episodes or by repeating in 
new forms the Christian truths of unity, brotherhood, equality, 
and love, but because all the oldest, commonest, and most 
hackneyed phenomena of life evoke the newest, most unex- 
pected and poignant emotions as soon as a man regards them 
from the Christian point of view. 

What can be older than the relations between married 
couples, of parents to children, of children to parents; the re- 
lations of men to their fellow-countrymen and to foreigners, 
to an invasion, to defence, to property, to the land, or to ani- 
mals? But as soon as a man regards these matters from the 
Christian point of view, endlessly varied, fresh, complex, and 
strong emotions immediately arise, 

u^VU jvX-y- V"^) 



318 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And in the same way, that realm of subject-matter for the 
art of the future which relates to the simplest feelings of com- 
mon life open to all will not be narrowed but widened. In 
our former art only the expression of feelings natural to peo- 
ple of a certain exceptional position was considered worthy of 
being transmitted by art, and even then only on condition that 
these feelings were transmitted in a most refined manner, in- 
comprehensible to the majority of men; all the immense realm 
of folk-art and children's art jests, proverbs, riddles, songs, 
dances, children's games, and mimicry was not esteemed a 
domain worthy of art. 

The artist of the future will understand that to compose a 
fairy-tale, a touching little song, a lullaby or an entertaining 
riddle, an amusing jest, or to draw a sketch which will delight 
dozens of generations or millions of children and adults, is 
incomparably more important and more fruitful than to com- 
pose a novel or a symphony, or paint a picture, which will 
divert some members of the wealthy classes for a short time 
and then for ever be forgotten. The region of this art of the 
simple feelings accessible to all is enormous and it is as yet 
almost untouched. 

The art of the future therefore will not be poorer but in- 
finitely richer in subject-matter. And the form of the art of 
the future will also not be inferior to the present forms but in- 
finitely superior. Superior, not in the sense of having a re- 
fined and complex technique, but in the sense of the capacity 
briefly, simply, and clearly to transmit, without any super- 
fluities, the feeling the artist has experienced and wishes to 
transmit. 

I remember once speaking to a famous astronomer who 
had given public lectures on the spectrum analysis of the stars 
of the Milky Way, and saying it would be a good thing if, 
with his knowledge and masterly delivery, he would give a 
lecture merely on the formation and movements of the earth, 



WHAT IS ART? 319 

for certainly there were many people at his lectures on the 
spectrum analysis of the stars of the Milky Way, especially 
among the women, who did not well know why night follows 
day and summer follows winter. The wise astronomer smiled 
as he answered, "Yes, it would be a good thing, but it would 
be very difficult. To lecture on the spectrum analysis of the 
Milky Way is far easier." 

And so it is in art. To write a rhymed poem dealing with 
the times of Cleopatra, or paint a picture of Nero burning 
Rome, or compose a symphony in the manner of Brahms or 
Richard Strauss, or an opera like Wagner's, is far easier than 
to tell a simple story without any unnecessary details yet 
so that it shall transmit the feelings of the narrator, or to 
draw a pencil-sketch which should touch or amuse the be- 
holder, or to compose four bars of clear and simple melody 
without any accompaniment, which should convey an im- 
pression and be remembered by those who hear it. 

"It is impossible to us, with our culture, to return to a 
primitive state," say the artists of our time. "It is impos- 
sible for us now to write such stories as that of Joseph or the 
Odyssey, to produce such statues as the Venus of Milo, or to 
compose such music as the folk-songs." 

And indeed for the artists of our society and day it is im- 
possible, but not for the future artist who will be free from all 
the perversion of technical improvements hiding the absence 
of subject-matter, and who, not being a professional artist, 
and receiving no payment for his activity, will only produce 
art when he feels impelled to do so by an irresistible inner 
impulse. 

The art of the future will thus be completely distinct, both 
in subject-matter and in form, from what is now called art. 
The only subject-matter of the art of the future will be either 
feelings drawing men towards union, or such as already unite 
them; and the forms of art will be such as will be open to 



< 



320 TOLSTOY ON ART 

everyone. And therefore the ideal of excellence in the fu- 
ture will not be exclusiveness of feeling, accessible only to 
some, but, on the contrary, its universality. And not bulki- 
ness, obscurity, and complexity of form, which are now val- 
ued, but, on the contrary, brevity, clearness, and simplicity 
of expression. Only when art has attained to that, will it 
neither divert nor deprave men as it does now, calling on 
them to expend their best strength on it, but be what it should 
be a vehicle wherewith to transmit religious, Christian per- 
ception from the realm of reason and intellect into that of 
feeling, and really drawing people in actual life nearer to 
the perfection and unity indicated to them by their religious 
perception. 



CHAPTER XX 

The connection between science and art. The mendacious sciences; the trivial 
sciences. Science should deal with the great problems of human life, and serve as 
a basis for art. 

CONCLUSION 

I have accomplished, to the best of my ability, this work 
which has occupied me for fifteen years, on a subject near to 
me that of art. By saying that this subject has occupied me 
for fifteen years, I do not mean that I have been writing this 
book fifteen years, but only that I began to write on art fifteen 
years ago, thinking that when once I undertook the task I 
should be able to accomplish it without a break. It proved 
however that my views on the matter then were so far from 
clear that I could not arrange them in a way that satisfied 
me. From that time I have never ceased to think on the 
subject, and I have recommenced writing on it six or seven 
times; but each time, after writing a considerable part of it, 
I have found myself unable to bring the work to a satisfactory 
conclusion and have had to put it aside. Now I have fin- 
ished it; and however badly I may have performed the task, 
my hope is that my fundamental thought on the false di- 
rection the art of our society has taken and is following, on 
the reasons of this, and on the real destination of art, is 
correct, and that therefore my work will not be without avail. 
But that this should come to pass, and that art should really 
abandon its false path and take the new direction, it is neces- 
sary that another equally important spiritual human activity 
science in intimate dependence on which art always rests, 
should abandon the false path which it too, like art, is 
following. 

321 



322 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Science and art are as closely bound together as the lungs 
and the heart, so that if the one organ is vitiated the other 
cannot act rightly. 

True science investigates and brings to human perception 
such truths and such knowledge as the people of a given time 
and society consider most important. Art transmits these 
truths from the region of perception to the region of emotion. 
If therefore the path chosen by science be false so also will 
be the path taken by art. Science and art are like a certain 
kind of barge with kedge-anchors which used to ply on our 
rivers. Science, like the boats which took the anchors up- 
stream and made them secure, gives direction to the forward 
movement ; while art, like the windlass worked on the barge to 
draw it towards the anchor, causes the actual progression. 
And thus a false activity of science inevitably causes a cor- 
respondingly false activity of art. 

As art in general is the transmission of every kind of feel- 
ing, but in the limited sense of the word we call nothing art 
unless it transmits feelings acknowledged by us to be im- 
portant, so also science in general is the transmission of all 
possible knowledge, but in the limited sense of the word we 
give the name of science to that which transmits knowledge 
admitted by us to be important. 

And the degree of importance, both of the feelings trans- 
mitted by art and of the information transmitted by science, 
is decided by the religious perception of the given time and 
society, that is, by the common understanding of the purpose 
of their lives possessed by the people of that time or society. 

What most of all contributes to the fulfilment of that pur- 
pose will be studied most; what contributes less will be 
studied less; what does not contribute at all to the fulfilment 
of the purpose of human life will be entirely neglected or, 
if studied, such study will not be accounted science. So it 
always has been and so it should be now, for such is the 



} 



WHAT IS ART? 323 

nature of human knowledge and of human life. But the 
science of the upper classes of our time, which not only does 
not acknowledge any religion, but considers every religion to 
be mere superstition, could not and cannot make such 
distinctions. 

Scientists of our day affirm that they study everything im- 
partially; but as everything is too much, is in fact an infinite 
number of objects, and it is impossible to study all alike, this 
is only said in theory, while in practice not everything is 
studied, and study is applied far from impartially only that 
being studied which, on the one hand, is most wanted by, and 
on the other hand, is pleasantest to, those people who occupy 
themselves with science. And what the members of the up- 
per classes who are occupying themselves with science most 
want is the maintenance of the system under which those 
classes retain their privileges; and what is pleasantest are 
such things as satisfy idle curiosity, do not demand great 
mental effort, and can be practically applied. 

And therefore one side of science, including theology and 
philosophy adapted to the existing order, as also history and 
political economy of the same sort, are chiefly occupied in 
proving that the existing order is the very one which ought 
to endure; that it has come into existence and continues to 
exist by the operation of immutable laws not amenable to 
human will, and that all efforts to change it are therefore 
harmful and wrong. The other part, experimental science 
including mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, botany, 
and all the natural sciences is exclusively occupied with 
things that have no direct relation to the purpose of human 
life: with what is curious, and with things of which practical 
application advantageous to people of the upper classes can 
be made. And to justify that selection of objects of study 
which (in conformity with their own position) the men of 
science of our times have made, they have devised a theory 



324 TOLSTOY ON ART 

of science for science's sake, quite similar to the theory of art 
for art's sake. 

As by the theory of art for art's sake it appears that oc- 
cupation with all those things that please us is art, so, by 
the theory of science for science's sake, the study of that which 
interests us is science. 

So that one side of science, instead of studying how peo- 
ple should live in order to fulfil their mission in life, demon- 
strates the righteousness and immutability of the bad and 
false arrangements of life which exist around us; while the 
other part, experimental science, occupies itself with questions 
of simple curiosity or with technical improvements. 

The first of these divisions of science is harmful, not only 
because it confuses people's perceptions and gives false de- 
cisions, but also by its mere existence, occupying the ground 
which should belong to true science. It does this harm, that 
every man, in order to approach the study of the most impor- 
tant questions of life, must first refute these erections of lies 
which have for ages been piled around each of the most essen- 
tial questions of human life, and which are propped up by 
all the strength of human ingenuity. 

The second division the one of which modern science 
is so particularly proud, and which is considered by many 
people to be the only real science is harmful in that it di- 
verts attention from the really important subjects to insignifi- 
cant subjects, and is also directly harmful in that, under the 
evil system of society which the first division of science justi- 
fies and supports, a great part of the technical gains of sci- 
ence are turned not to the advantage but to the injury of 
mankind. 

Indeed, it is only to those who are devoting their lives to 
such study that it seems as if all the inventions which are 
made in the sphere of natural science were very important 
and useful things. And to these people it seems so only 



WHAT IS ART? 325 

when they do not look around them and do not see what is 
really important. They only need tear themselves away from 
the psychological microscope under which they examine the 
objects of their study, and look about them, in order to see 
how insignificant is all that has afforded them such naive 
pride, all that knowledge not only of geometry of n- 
dimensions, spectrum analysis of the Milky Way, form of 
atoms, dimensions of human skulls of the Stone Age, and 
similar trifles, but even our knowledge of micro-organisms, 
X-rays, and so forth, in comparison with such knowledge as 
we have thrown aside and handed over to the perversions of 
the professors of theology, jurisprudence, political economy, 
financial science, etc. We need only look around us to per- 
ceive that the activity proper to real science is not the study 
of whatever happens to interest us, but the study of how 
man's life should be established, the study of those questions 
of religion, morality, and social life, without the solution of 
which all our knowledge of nature will be harmful or 
insignificant. 

We are highly .delighted and very proud that our science 
renders it possible to utilise the energy of a waterfall and 
make it work in factories, or that we have pierced tunnels 
through mountains, and so forth. But the pity of it is that 
we make the force of the waterfall labour, not for the bene- 
fit of the workmen but to enrich capitalists who produce arti- 
cles of luxury or weapons of man-destroying war. The same 
dynamite with which we blast the mountains to pierce tunnels, 
we use for wars, which latter we not only do not intend to 
abstain from but consider inevitable, and unceasingly pre- 
pare for. 

If we are now able to inoculate preventatively with diph- 
theritic microbes, to find a needle in a body by means of X- 
rays, to straighten a hunchback, cure syphilis, and perform 
wonderful operations, we should not be proud of these acqui- 



326 TOLSTOY ON ART 

sitions (even were they all established beyond dispute) if we 
fully understood the true purpose of real science. If but 
one-tenth of the efforts now spent on objects of pure curiosity 
or of merely practical application were expended on real sci- 
ence organising the life of man, more than half the people now 
sick would not have the illnesses from which a small minority 
of them get cured in hospitals. There would be no poor- 
blooded and deformed children growing up in factories, no 
death-rates, as now, of 50 per cent, among children, no de- 
terioration of whole generations, no prostitution, no syphilis, 
and no murdering of hundreds of thousands in wars, 
nor those horrors of folly and of misery which our pres- 
ent science considers a necessary condition of human 
life. 

We have so perverted the conception of science that it seems 
strange to men of our day to allude to sciences which should 
prevent the mortality of children, prostitution, syphilis, the 
deterioration of whole generations, and the wholesale murder 
of men. It seems to us that science is only then real science 
when a man in a laboratory pours liquids from one jar into 
another, or analyses the spectrum, or cuts up frogs and por- 
poises, or weaves in a specialised scientific jargon an obscure 
network of conventional phrases theological, philosophical, 
historical, juridical, or politico-economical semi-intelligible 
to the man himself and intended to demonstrate that what 
now is, is what should be. 

But science, true science, such science as would really de- 
serve the respect which is now claimed by the followers of 
one (the least important) part of science, is not at all of 
this kind: real science lies in knowing what we should and 
what we should not believe, in knowing how the associated life 
of man should and should not be constituted: how to treat 
sexual relations, how to educate children, how to use the 
land, how to cultivate it oneself without oppressing other peo- 



pie, 



WHAT IS ART? 327 



how to treat foreigners, how to treat animals, and much 
more that is important for the life of man. 

Such has true science ever been and such it should be. And 
such science is springing up in our times; but, on the one 
hand, such true science is denied and refuted by all those 
scientific people who defend the existing order of society, 
and, on the other hand, it is considered empty, unnecessary, 
unscientific science by those who are engrossed in experimental 
science. 

For instance, books and sermons appear, demonstrating 
the antiquatedness and absurdity of Church dogmas, as well 
as the necessity of making clear the reasonable religious per- 
ception suitable to our times, and all the theology that is 
held to be real science is only engaged in refuting these works 
and in exercising human intelligence again and again upon 
finding support and justification for superstitions long since 
out-lived, which have now become quite meaningless. Or 
a sermon appears showing that land should not be an object 
of private possession and that the institution of private prop- 
erty in land is a chief cause of the poverty of the masses. 
Apparently science, real science, should welcome such a ser- 
mon and draw further deductions from this position. But 
the science of our times does nothing of the kind: on the 
contrary, political economy demonstrates the opposite position, 
namely, that landed property, like every other form of prop- 
erty, must be more and more concentrated in the hands of a 
small number of owners. Again, in the same way, one would 
suppose it to be the business of real science to demonstrate 
the irrationality, unprofitableness, and immorality of war and 
of executions; or the inhumanity and harmfulness of prosti- 
tution; or the absurdity, harmfulness, and immorality of us- 
ing narcotics or of eating animals ; or the irrationality, harm- 
fulness, and antiquatedness of patriotism. And such works 
exist, but are all considered unscientific; while works to prove 



328 TOLSTOY ON ART 

that all these things ought to continue, and works intended to 
satisfy an idle thirst for knowledge lacking any relation to 
human life, are considered to be scientific. 

The deviation of the science of our time from its true pur- 
pose is strikingly illustrated by those ideals which are put for- 
ward by some scientists, and are not denied but admitted by 
the majority of scientific men. 

These ideals are expressed not only in stupid, fashionable 
books, describing the world as it will be a thousand or three 
thousand years hence, but also by sociologists who consider 
themselves serious men of science. These ideals are that 
food, instead of being obtained from the land by agriculture, 
will be prepared in laboratories by chemical means, and that 
human labour will be almost entirely superseded by the utili- 
sation of natural forces. 

Man will not, as now, eat an egg laid by a hen he has kept, 
or bread grown on his field, or an apple from a tree he has 
reared and which has blossomed and matured in his sight ; but 
he will eat tasty, nutritious food prepared in laboratories by 
the conjoint labour of many people, in which he will share to 
a small extent. Man will hardly need to labour, so that all 
men will be able to yield to idleness as the upper, ruling 
classes now yield to it. 

Nothing shows more plainly than these ideals to what a 
degree the science of our times has deviated from the true 
path. 

The great majority of men in our times lack good and suffi- 
cient food (as well as dwellings and clothes and all the first 
necessities of life). And this great majority of men is com- 
pelled, to the injury of its well-being, to labour continually 
beyond its strength. Both these evils can easily be removed 
by abolishing mutual strife, luxury, and the unrighteous dis- 
tribution of wealth in a word by the abolition of a false and 
harmful order and the establishment of a reasonable, human 



WHAT IS ART? 329 

manner of life. But science considers the existing order of 
things to be as immutable as the movements of the planets, 
and therefore assumes that the purpose of science is, not to 
elucidate the falseness of this order and to arrange a new, 
reasonable way of life, but, under the existing order of things, 
to feed everybody and enable all to be as idle as the ruling 
classes, living depraved lives, now are. 

And, meanwhile, it is forgotten that nourishment by corn, 
vegetables, and fruit, raised from the soil by one's own labour, 
is the pleasantest, healthiest, easiest, and most natural nour- 
ishment, and that the work of using one's muscles is as 
necessary a condition of life as is the oxidation of the blood 
by breathing. 

To invent means whereby people, while continuing our 
false division of property and labour, might be well nour- 
ished by means of chemically-prepared food and might make 
the forces of nature work for them, is like inventing means 
to pump oxygen into the lungs of a man kept in a closed 
chamber the air of which is bad, when all that is needed is 
for the man no longer to be confined in a closed chamber. 

In the vegetable and animal kingdoms a laboratory has 
been arranged for the production of food such as can be 
surpassed by no professors, and to enjoy the fruits of this 
laboratory and to participate in it man has only to yield to 
that ever joyful impulse to labour without which his life is 
a torment. And lo and behold ! the scientists of our times, in- 
stead of employing all their strength to abolish whatever 
hinders man from utilising the good things prepared for 
him, acknowledge the conditions under which man is deprived 
of these blessings to be unalterable; and instead of arrang- 
ing the life of man so that he may work joyfully and be fed 
from the soil, they devise methods which will cause him to 
become an artificial abortion. It is like not helping a man 
out of confinement into the fresh air, but devising means, 



C 



330 TOLSTOY ON ART 

instead, to pump into him the necessary quantity of oxygen, 
and arranging so that he may live in a stifling cellar instead 
of living at home. 

Such false ideals could not exist if science were not on a 
false path. 

And yet the feelings transmitted by art grow up on the 
bases supplied by science. 

But what feelings can such misdirected science evoke? 
One side of this science evokes antiquated feelings which hu- 
manity has exhausted, and which in our times are bad and 
exclusive. The other side, occupied with the study of sub- 
jects unrelated to the conduct of human life, by its very nature 
cannot serve as a basis for art. 

So that art in our times, to be art, must either open up its 
own road independently of science, or must take direction 
from the unrecognised science which is denounced by the 
orthodox section of science. And this is what art, when 
it even partially fulfils its mission, is doing. 

It is to be hoped that the work I have tried to perform con- 
cerning art will be performed also for science : that the false- 
ness of the theory of science for science's sake will be demon- 
strated; that the necessity of acknowledging Christian teach- 
ing in its true meaning will be clearly shown, and on the basis 
of that teaching a reappraisement be made of the knowledge 
we possess and of which we are so proud ; that the secondari- 
ness and insignificance of experimental science, and the 
primacy and importance of religious, moral, and social 
knowledge, will be established ; and that such knowledge will 
not, as now, be left to the guidance of the upper classes only, 
but will form a chief interest of all free, truth-loving men, 
such as those who, not in agreement with the upper classes 
but in their despite, have always forwarded the real science 
of life. 

Astronomical, physical, chemical, and biological science, 






WHAT IS ART? 881 

as also technical and medical science, will be studied only in 
so far as they can help to free mankind from religious, juri- 
dical, or social deceptions, or can serve to promote the well- 
being of all men and not of any single class. 

Only then will science cease to be what it is now on the 
one hand a system of sophistries, needed for the maintenance 
of the existing worn-out order of society, and on the other 
hand a shapeless mass of miscellaneous knowledge, for the 
most part good for little or nothing and become a shapely 
and organic whole having a definite and reasonable purpose 
comprehensible to all men, namely, the purpose of bringing 
to the consciousness of men the truths that flow from the re- 
hgious perception of our times. 

And only then will art, which is always dependent on sci- 
ence, be what it might and should be, an organ co-equally 
important with science for the life and progress of mankind. , 

Art is not a pleasure, a solace, or an amusement; art is a' 
great matter. Art is an organ of human life transmitting 
man's reasonable perception into feeling. In our age the 
common religious perception of men is the consciousness of 
the brotherhood of man we know that the well-being of man 
lies in union with his fellow-men. True science should indi- 
cate the various methods of applying this consciousness to 
life. Art should transform this perception into feeling. 

The task of art is enormous. Through the influence of real 
art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful co- 
operation of man which is now maintained by external means, 
by our law-courts, police, charitable institutions, factory 
inspection, and so forth, should be obtained by man's free 
and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set < 
aside. 1 

1 Tolstoy's doctrine of Non-Resistance to "him that is evil" by any use of physi- 
cal force has caused much perplexity and is accepted in its completeness by but 
few people in the Western world. In this passage however he states it in a 



332 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And it is only art that can accomplish this. 

All that now, independently of the fear of violence and 
punishment, makes the social life of man possible (and al- 
ready this is an enormous part of the order of our lives) all 
this has been brought about by art. If by art has been in- 
culcated how people should treat religious objects, their par- 
ents, their children, their wives, their relations, strangers, 
foreigners; how to conduct themselves towards their elders, 
their superiors, towards those who suffer, towards their ene- 
mies, and towards animals; and if this has been obeyed 
through generations by millions of people, not only unen- 
forced by any violence but so that the force of such customs 
can be shaken in no way but by means of art: then by art 
also other customs, more in accord with the religious percep- 
tion of our time, may be evoked. If art has been able to con- 
vey the sentiment of reverence for images, for the Eucharist, 
and for the king's person; of shame at betraying a comrade, 
devotion to a flag, the necessity of revenge for an insult, the 
need to sacrifice one's labour for the erection and adornment 
of churches, the duty of defending one's honour, or the glory 
of one's native land then that same art can also evoke rev- 
erence for the dignity of every man and for the life of every 
animal; can make men ashamed of luxury, of violence, of 
revenge, or of using for their pleasure that of which others are 
in need ; can compel people freely, gladly, and without notic- 
ing it, to sacrifice themselves in the service of man. 

The task for art to accomplish is to make that feeling of 
brotherhood and love of one's neighbour now attained only 
by the best members of society, the customary feeling and the 
instinct of all men. By evoking under imaginary conditions 
the feeling of brotherhood and love, religious art will train 

form to which it would be hard to raise any objection. Never before had the 
doctrine of Non-Resistance been put so briefly, persuasively, and attractively. 
A. M. 



WHAT IS ART? 333 

men to experience those same feelings under similar circum- 
stances in actual life; it will lay in the souls of men the rails 
along which the actions of those whom art thus educates will 
naturally pass. And universal art, by uniting the most dif- 
ferent people in one common feeling, by destroying separa- 
tion, will educate people to union, and will show them, not 
by reason but by life itself, the joy of universal union reach- 
ing beyond the bounds set by life. 

The destiny of art in our time is to transmit, from the 
realm of reason to the realm of feeling, the truth that well- 
being for men consists in their being united together, and to 
set up, in place of the existing reign of force, that kingdom 
of God that is, of love which we all recognise to be the 
highest aim of human life. 

Possibly in the future, science may reveal to art yet newer 
and higher ideals which art may realise; but in our time the 
destiny of art is clear and definite. The task of Christian 
art is to establish brotherly union among men. 



APPENDICES 

APPENDIX I 

Translations of French poems and prose quoted in 
Chapter X. 1 

BAUDELAIRE'S "FLOWERS OF EVIL" 

No. XXIV 

I adore thee as much as the vaults of night, 

vessel of grief, taciturnity great, 

And I love thee the more because of thy flight. 

It seemeth, my night's beautifier, that you 

Still heap up those leagues yes! ironically heap! 

That divide from my arms the immensity blue. 

1 advance to attack, I climb to assault, 

Like a choir of young worms at a corpse in the vault; 

Thy coldness, oh cruel, implacable beast! 

Yet heightens thy beauty, on which my eyes feast! 

BAUDELAIRE'S "FLOWERS OF EVIL" 

No. XXXVI 

DUELLUM 

Two warriors come running, to fight they begin, 
With gleaming and blood they bespatter the air; 
These games, and this clatter of arms, is the din 
Of youth that's a prey to the raging of love. 

The rapiers are broken ! and so is our youth, 
But the dagger's avenged, dear! and so is the sword, 
By the nail that is steeled and the hardened tooth. 
Oh ! the fury of hearts aged and ulcered by love ! 

1 The translation in Appendices I, II and IV are by my wife, Louise Maude. 
The aim of these renderings has been to keep as close to the originals as the 
obscurity of meaning allowed. The sense (or absence of sense) has therefore been 
more considered than the form of the verses. A. M. 

334 



WHAT IS ART? 335 

In the ditch, where the ounce and the pard have their lair, 

Our heroes have rolled in an angry embrace; 

Their skin blooms on brambles that erewhile were bare. 

That ravine is a friend-inhabited hell! 

Then let us roll in, oh woman inhuman, 

To immortalise hatred that nothing can quell! 



FROM BAUDELAIRE'S PROSE WORK ENTITLED 
'LITTLE POEMS IN PROSE' 

THE STRANGER 

Whom dost thou love best? say, enigmatical man thy father, thy 
mother, thy sister, or thy brother ? 

"I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother." 

Thy friends? 

"There you use an expression the meaning of which till now remains 
unknown to me." 

Thy country? 

"I know not in what latitude it is situated." 

Beauty ? 

"I would gladly love her, goddess and immortal." 

Gold? 

"I hate it, as you hate God." 

Then what do you love, extraordinary stranger? 

"I love the clouds ... the clouds that pass . . . there ... the mar- 
vellous clouds!" 

THE SOUP AND THE CLOUDS 

My beloved little silly was giving me my dinner, and I was con- 
templating, through the open window of the dining-room, those moving 
architectures which God makes out of vapours, the marvellous con- 
structions of the impalpable. And I said to myself, amid my con- 
templation, All these phantasmagoria are almost as beautiful as the 
eyes of my beautiful beloved, the monstrous little silly with the green 
eyes. 

Suddenly I felt the violent blow of a fist on my back, and I heard 



386 TOLSTOY ON ART 

a harsh, charming voice, an hysterical voice, as it were hoarse with 
brandy, the voice of my dear little well-beloved, saying, Are you going 
to eat your soup soon, you d b of a dealer in clouds? 



THE GALLANT MARKSMAN 

As the carriage was passing through the forest he ordered it to be 
stopped near a shooting-gallery, saying that he wished to shoot off a 
few bullets to kill Time. To kill this monster, is it not the most 
ordinary and the most legitimate occupation of everyone? And he 
gallantly offered his arm to his dear, delicious, and execrable wife 
that mysterious woman to whom he owed so much pleasure, so much 
pain, and perhaps also a large part of his genius. 

Several bullets struck far from the intended mark one even pene- 
trated the ceiling; and as the charming creature laughed wildly, mock- 
ing her husband's awkwardness, he turned abruptly towards her and 
said, Look at that doll there on the right with the haughty mien and 
her nose in the air; well, dear angel, / imagine to myself that it is you! 
And he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The doll was neatly 
decapitated. 

Then, bowing towards his dear one, his delightful, execrable wife, 
his inevitable, pitiless muse, and kissing her hand respectfully, he added, 
Ah! my dear angel, how I thank you for my skill! 



VERLAINE'S FORGOTTEN AIRS 

No. I 

"The wind in the plain 
Suspends its breath." Favart. 

Tis ecstasy languishing, 
Amorous fatigue, 
Of woods all the shudderings 
Embraced by the breeze, 
Tis the choir of small voices 
Towards the grey trees. 



WHAT IS ART? 337 

Oh the frail and fresh murmuring 1 
The twitter and buzz, 
The soft cry resembling 
Breathed forth by the grass . . . 
Oh, the roll of the pebbles 
'Neath waters that pass ! 

Oh, this soul that is groaning 
In sleepy complaint! 
In us is it moaning? 
In me and in you? 
Low anthem exhaling 
While soft falls the dew. 



VERLAINE'S "FORGOTTEN AIRS" 

No. VIII 

In the unending 
Dulness of this land, 
Uncertain the snow 
Is gleaming like sand. 

No kind of brightness 
In copper-hued sky, 
The moon you might see 
Now live and now die. 

Grey float the oak trees 
Cloudlike they seem 
Of neighbouring forests, 
Mists in between. 

Wolves hungry and lean, 
And famishing crow, 
What happens to you 
When acrid winds blow? 

In the unending 
Dulness of this land, 
Uncertain the snow 
Is gleaming like sand. 



338 TOLSTOY ON ART 

SONG BY MAETERLINCK 

When he went away, 

(Then I heard the door) 

When he went away, 

On her lips a smile there lay . . 

Back he came to her, 
(Then I heard the lamp) 
Back he came to her, 
Someone else was there . . . 

It was death I met, 

(And I heard her soul) 

It was death I met, 

For her he's waiting yet . . . 

Someone came to say, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
Someone came to say 
That he would go away . . . 

With my lamp alight, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
With my lamp alight, 
Approached I in affright . . 

To one door I came, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
To one door I came, 
A shudder shook the flame . . . 

At the second door, 

(Child, I am afraid) 

At the second door 

Words did the flame outpour . . 

To the third I came, 

(Child, I am afraid) 

To the third I came, 

Then died the little flame . . . 



WHAT IS ART? 

Should he one day return, 
And see you lying dead? 
Say I longed for him 
When on my dying bed . . . 

If he asks for you, 
Say what answer then? 
Give him my gold ring 
And answer not a thing . . . 

Should he question me 
Concerning the last hour? 
Say I smiled for fear 
That he should shed a tear . . 

Should he question more 
Without knowing me? 
Like a sister speak; 
Suffering he may be . . . 

Should he question why 
Empty is the hall? 
Show the gaping door, 
The lamp alight no more . . 



APPENDIX II 

This is the first page of Mallarme's book Divagations, 
referred to in Chapter X, page 215. 

LE PHENOMENE FUTUR 

Un ciel pale, sur le monde qui finit de decrepitude, va 
peut-etre partir avec les nuages: les lambeaux de la pourpre 
usee des couchants deteignent dans une riviere dormant a 
Thorizon submerge de rayons et d'eau. Les arbres s'ennuient, 
et, sous leur feuillage blanchi (de la poussiere du temps 
plutot que celle des chemins) monte la maison en toile de 
Montreur de choses Passees: maint reverbere attend le 
crepuscule et ravive les visages d'une malheureuse foule, 
vaincue par la maladie immortelle et le peche des siecles, 
d'hommes pres de leurs chetives complices enceintes des 
fruits miserables avec lesquels perira la terre. Dans le 
silence inquiet de tous les yeux suppliant la-bas le soleil qui, 
sous l'eau. s'enfonce avec le desespoir d'un cri, voici le 
simple boniment: "Nulle enseigne ne vous regale du 
spectacle interieur, car il n'est pas maintenant un peintre 
capable d'en donner une ombre triste. J'apporte, vivante 
(et preservee a travers les ans par la science souveraine), une 
Femme d'autrefois. Quelque folie, originelle et naive, une 
extase d'or, je ne sais quoi! par elle nomme sa chevelure, se 
ploie avec la grace des etoffes autour d'un visage qu' eclaire 
la nudite sanglante de ses levres. A la place du vetement 
vain, elle a un corps; et les yeux, semblables aux pierres 
rares ! ne valent pas ce regard qui sort de sa chair heureuse : 
des seins leves comme s'ils etaient pleins d'un lait eternel, la 
pointe vers le ciel, les jambes lisses qui gardent le sel de 

340 



. 



WHAT IS ART? 341 



la mer premiere." Se rappelant leurs pauvres epouses, 
chauves, morbides et pleines d'horreur, les maris se pressent: 
elles aussi par curiosite, melancoliques, veulent voir. 

Quand tous auront contemple la noble creature, vestige 
de quelque epoque deja maudite, les uns indifferents, car ils 
n'auront pas eu la force de comprendre, mais d'autres navres 
et la paupiere humide de larmes resignees, se regarderont; 
tandis que les poetes de ces temps, sentant se rallumer leur 
yeux eteints, s'achemineront vers leur lampe, le cerveau ivre 
un instant d'une gloire confuse, hantes du Rythme et dans 
l'oubli d'exister a une epoque qui survit a la beaute. 

THE FUTURE PHENOMENON by Mallarme 

A pale sky, above the world that is ending through de- 
crepitude, about perhaps to pass away with the clouds: shreds 
of worn-out purple of the sunsets wash off their colour in a 
river sleeping on the horizon, submerged with rays and water. 
The trees are weary and, beneath their whitened foliage 
(whitened by the dust of time rather than that of the roads) 
rises the canvas house of "Showman of Things Past." Many 
a lamp awaits the gloaming and brightens the faces of a 
miserable crowd vanquished by the everlasting sickness and 
the sin of ages, of men by the sides of their puny accomplices 
pregnant with the miserable fruit through which the world will 
perish. In the anxious silence of all the eyes there supplicat- 
ing the sun, which sinks under the water with the despera- 
tion of a cry, this is the plain announcement: "No sign- 
board regales you with the spectacle that is inside, for there is 
no painter now capable of giving even a sad shadow of it. 
I bring, living (and preserved by sovereign science through 
the years), a Woman of other days. Some kind of folly, 
naive and original, an ecstasy of gold, I know not what, by 
her called her hair, clings with the grace of drapery round a 
face brightened by the blood-red nudity of her lips. In place 



342 TOLSTOY ON ART 

of vain clothing, she has a body; and her eyes, resembling 
precious stones! are not worth that look which comes from 
her happy flesh: breasts raised as if full of eternal milk, the 
points towards the sky; the smooth legs, that keep the salt of 
the first sea." Remembering their poor spouses, bald, mor- 
bid, and full of horrors, the husbands press forward: the 
women too, from curiosity, gloomily wish to see. 

When all shall have contemplated the noble creature, 
vestige of some epoch already damned, they will look at each 
other, some indifferently, for they will not have had strength 
to understand, but others broken-hearted and with eye-lids 
wet with tears of resignation, while the poets of those times, 
feeling their dim eyes rekindled, will make their way towards 
their lamp, their brain for an instant drunk with confused 
glory, haunted by Rhythm and forgetful that they exist at an 
epoch which has survived Beauty. 






APPENDIX III 



Poems referred to in Chapter X, page 217. 



No. 1 



1 



The following verse is by Henri de Regnier, from page 28 
of a volume of his poems: 



L'ACCUEIL 

Si tu veux que ce soir, a l'atre, je t'accueille 
Jette d'abord la fleur, qui de ta main s'effeuille; 
Son cher parfum ferait ma tristesse trop sombre; 
Et ne regard pas derriere toi vers l'ombre, 
Car je te veux, ayant oublie la foret 
Et-le vent, et l'echo et ce qui parlerait 
Voix a ta solitude ou pleur a ta silence! 
Et debout, avec ton ombre qui te devance, 
Et hautine sur mon seuil, et pale, et venue 
Comme si j'etais mort ou que tu fusses nue! 

Henri de Regnier: Les jeux rustiques et devins. 

THE WELCOME 

If you want us to-night by my fireside to greet 
Drop the flower you hold that sheds petals so sweet; 
Its dear scent would render my sadness too black; 
And do not on the shadows behind you look back, 
For I want you, forgetful of forest and wind, 
Of echoes and all you'd recall to your mind 
Giving voice to your silence, to solitude tears, 
At my door, while before you your shadow appears, 
And haughty and pale and erect you stand there 
Just as if I were dead, or that naked you were. 
343 



344. TOLSTOY ON ART 

No. 2 

The following verses are by Viele-Griffin, from page 28 
of a volume of his poems: 

OISEAU BLEU COULEUR DU TEMPS 



1. 

Sais-tu l'oubli 
D'un vain doux reve, 
Oiseau moqueur 
De la foret? 
Le jour palit, 
La nuit se leve, 
Et dans mon cceur 
L'ombre a pleure; 

2. 

O chante-moi 

Ta folle gamme, 

Car j'ai dormi 

Ce jour durant; 

Le lache emoi 

Ou fut mon ame 

Sanglote ennui 

Le jour mourant . . . 

3. 

Sais-tu le chant 
De sa parole 
Et de sa voix, 
Toi qui redis 
Dans le couchant 
Ton air frivole 
Comme autrefois 
Sous les midis? 






WHAT IS ART? 345 



4. 

O, chante alors 
La melodie 
De son amour, 
Mon fol espoir, 
Parmi les ors 
Et l'incendie 
Du vain doux jour 
Qui meurt ce soir. 
Francis Viele-Griffin : Poemes et Poesies. 

BLUE BIRD COLOUR OF THE TIMES 
Canst thou forget 
In dreams so vain, 
Oh, mocking bird 
Of forest deep? 
The day doth set, 
Night comes again, 
My heart has heard 
The shadows weep; 

2. 
Thy tones let flow 
In maddening scale, 
For I have slept 
The livelong day; 
Emotions low 
In me now wail, 
My soul they've kept: 
Light dies away . . . 

3. 
That music sweet, 
Ah, do you know 
Her voice and speech? 
Your airs so light 
You who repeat 
In sunset's glow, 
As you sang, each, 
At noonday's height. 



346 TOLSTOY ON ART 



Of my desire, 
My hope so bold, 
Her love up, sing, 
Sing 'neath this light, 
This flaming fire, 
And all the gold 
The eve doth bring 
Ere comes the night. 



No. 3 

And here are some verses by the esteemed young poet 
Verhaeren, which I also take from page 28 of his Works: 

ATT IRAN CES 

Lointainement, et si etrangement pareils, 

De grands masques d'argent que la brume recule, 

Vaguent, au jour tombant, autour des vieux soleils. 

Les doux lointaines! et comme, au fond du crepuscule, 
lis nous fixent le cceur, immensement le cceur, 
Avec les yeux defunts de leur visage d'ame. 

C'est toujours du silence, a moins, dans la paleur 
Du soir, un jet de feu sondain, un cri de flamme, 
Un depart de lumiere inattendu vers Dieu. 

On se laisse charmer et troubler de mystere, 
Et Ton dirait des morts qui taisent un adieu 
Trop mystique, pour etre ecoute par la terre! 

Sont-ils le souvenir materiel et clair 

Des ephebes chretiens couches aux catacombes 

Parmi les lys? Sont-ils leur regard et leur chair? 



WHAT IS ART? 347 

Ou seul, ce qui survit de merveilleux aux tombes 
De ceux qui sont partis, vers leurs reves, un soir, 
Conquerir la folie a Tassaut des nuees? 

Lontainement, combien nous les sentons vouloir 
Un peu d'amour pour leurs oeuvres destituees, 
Pour leur errance et leur tristesse aux horizons. 

Toujours! aux horizons du cceur et de pensees, 
Alors que les vieux soirs eclatent en blasons 
Soudains, pour les gloires noires et angoissees. 

mile Verhaeren, 
Poemes. 



ATTRACTIONS 

Large masks of silver, by mists drawn away, 

So strangely alike, yet so far apart, 

Float round the old suns when faileth the day. 

They transfix our heart, so immensely our heart, 
Those distances mild, in the twilight deep, 
Looking out of dead faces, with their spirit eyes. 

All around is now silence, except when there leap 
In the pallor of evening, with fiery cries, 
Some fountains of flame that Godward do fly. 

Mysterious trouble and charms us enfold, 

You might think that the dead spoke a silent good-bye, 

Oh ! too mystical far on earth to be told ! 

Are they the memories, material and bright, 

Of the Christian youths that in catacombs sleep 

'Mid the lilies? Are they their flesh or their sight? 

Or the marvel alone that survives, in the deep, 
Of those that, one night, returned to their dreams 
Of conquering folly by assaulting the skies? 



348 TOLSTOY ON ART 

For their destitute works we feel it, it seems, 

For a little love their longing cries 

From horizons far for their wanderings and pain. 

In horizons ever of heart and thought, 
While the evenings old in bright blaze wane 
Suddenly, for black glories anguish fraught. 

No. 4 

And the following is a poem by Moreas, evidently an ad- 
mirer of Greek beauty. It is from page 28 of a volume of 
his poems: 

ENONE AU CLAIR VISAGE 

finone, j'avais cru qu'en aimant ta beaute 

Ou l'ame avec le corps trouvent leur unite, 

J'allais, m'affermissant et le cceur et l'esprit, 

Monter jusqu'a cela, qui jamais ne perit, 

N'ayant ete cree, qui n'est froidure ou feu, 

Qui n'est beau quelque part et laid en autre lieu; 

Et me flattais encor d'une belle harmonie 

Que j'eusse compose du meilleur et du pire, 

Ainsi que le chanteur qui cherit Polymnie, 

En accordant le grave avec l'aigu, retire 

Un son bien eleve sur les nerfs de sa lyre. 

Mais mon courage, helas! se pamant comme mort, 

M'enseigna que le trait qui m'avait fait amant 

Ne fut pas de cet arc que courbe sans effort 

La Venus qui naquit du male seulement, 

Mais que j'avais souffert cette Venus derniere, 

Qui a le cceur couard, ne d'une faible mere. 

Et pourtant, ce mauvais garqon, chasseur habile, 

Qui charge son carquois de sagette subtile, 

Qui secoue en riant sa torche, pour un jour, 

Qui ne pose jamais que sur de tendres fleurs, 

C'est sur un teint charmant qu'il essuie les pleurs, 

Et c'est encore un Dieu, finone, cet Amour. 






WHAT IS ART? 349 

Mais, laisse, les oiseaux du printemps sont partis, 
Et je vois les rayons du soleil amortis. 
finone, ma douleur, harmonieux visage, 
Superbe humilite, doux-honnete langage, 
Hier me remirant dans cet etang glace 
Qui au bout du jardin se couvre de feuillage, 
Sur ma face je vis que les jours ont passe. 

Jean Moreas: Le Pelerin Passionne. 



ENONE OF THE CLEAR VISAGE 

Enone, in loving thy beauty I thought 

(Where the soul and the body to union are brought) 

I should mount, by strengthening my heart and my mind, 

Till that which knows nothing of Death I should find: 

Uncreated, which is not here ugly, there fair, 

Nor cold in one part and on fire otherwhere. 

I flattered myself that the better and worse 

To a harmony perfect should move in my verse; 

As the poet who serves Polyhymnia can bring 

The grave and the piercing to concord, and ring 

Notes loftier still from the nerves of his lyre. 

But my courage which now does but faintly suspire, 

Nigh to death, hath proclaimed that the arrow ah, woe! 

Which pierced me, and first with this love made me moan, 

Was no arrow dispatched from the easy-bent bow 

By a Venus who sprang from a father alone. 

But 'twas that other Venus who caused me to smart, 

She, born of frail mother with cowardly heart. 

Yet this naughty rascal, this hunter so bold, 

Whose quiver does arrows of subtlety hold, 

Who, laughing and shaking his torch (for a day!), 

Never rests but upon tender flowers and gay, 

And on a sweet skin dries his tears as they flow 

Tis a God still, Enone, this Love that we know. 

Let it pass, for the birds of the springtime are fled, 

And I see the last rays of a sun that's nigh dead. 

Enone, my grief, ah harmonious face, 



350 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Humility grand, words of virtue and grace, 

I looked yestere'en in the pond frozen fast, 

Strewn with leaves at the end of the garden's fair space, 

And I read in my face that those days are now past. 



No. 5 

And this is also from page 28 of a thick book, full of 
similar poems, by M. Montesquiou. 

BERCEUSE D'OMBRE 

Des formes, des formes, des formes 
Blanche, bleue, et rose, et d'or 
Descendront du haut des ormes 
Sur l'enfant qui se rendort. 
Des formes! 

Des plumes, des plumes, des plumes 
Pour composer un doux nid. 
Midi sonne: les enclumes 
Cessent; la rumeur finit . . . 
Des plumes! 

Des roses, des roses, des roses 
Pour embaumer son sommeil, 
Vos pet ales sont moroses 
Pres du sourire vermeil. 
O roses! 

Des ailes, des ailes, des ailes 
Pour bourdonner a son front, 
Abeilles et demoiselles, 
Des rythmes qui berceront. 
Des ailes! 

Des branches, des branches, des branches 
Pour tresser un pavilion, 
Par ou des clartes moins franches 
Descendront sur l'oisillon. 
Des branches! 






WHAT IS ART? 851 

Des songes, des songes, des songes 
Dans ses pensers entr'ouverts 
Glissez un peu de mensonges 
A voir le vie au travers. 
Des songes! 

Des fees, des fees, des fees, 
Pour filer leurs echeveaux 
Des mirages, de bouffees 
Dans tous ces petits cerveaux. 
Des fees. 

Des anges, des anges, des anges 
Pour emporter dans Tether 
Les petits enfants etranges 
Qui ne veulent pas rester . . . 
Nos anges ! 
Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac, 
Les Hortensias Bleues. 



THE SHADOW LULLABY 

Forms, forms, forms 
White, blue, and gold, and red 
Descending from the elm trees, 
On sleeping baby's head. 
Forms! 

Feathers, feathers, feathers 
To make a cosy nest. 
Twelve striking: stops the clamour; 
The anvils are at rest . . . 
Oh feathers! 

Roses, roses, roses 
To scent his sleep awhile, 
Pale are your fragrant petals 
Beside his ruby smile. 
Oh roses ! 



352 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Wings, wings, wings 
Of bees and dragon-flies, 
To hum around his forehead, 
And lull him with your sighs. 
Oh wings! 

Branches, branches, branches 
A shady bower to twine, 
Through which, oh daylight, faintly 
Descend on birdie mine. 
Branches ! 

Dreams, dreams, dreams 
Into his opening mind, 
Let in a little falsehood 
With sights of life behind. 
Dreams ! 

Fairies, fairies, fairies, 
To twine and twist their threads 
With puffs of phantom visions 
Into these little heads. 
Fairies ! 

Angels, angels, angels 
To the ether far away, 
Those children strange to carry 
That here don't wish to stay . . . 
Our angels! 



APPENDIX IV 

These are the contents of the Nibelungen Ring: 

The first part tells that the nymphs, the daughters of the 
Rhine, for some reason guard gold in the Rhine and sing: 
Weia, Waga, Woge du Welle, Walle zur Wiege, Wagala- 
weia, Wallala, Weila, Weia, and so forth. 

These singing nymphs are pursued by a dwarf (a nibelung) 
who desires to seize them. The dwarf cannot catch any of 
them. Then the nymphs guarding the gold tell the dwarf 
just what they ought to keep secret, namely, that whoever 
renounces love will be able to steal the gold they are guarding. 
And the dwarf renounces love and steals the gold. This ends 
the first scene. 

In the second scene a god and a goddess lie in a field in 
sight of a castle which giants have built for them. Presently 
they wake up and are pleased with the castle, and they relate 
that in payment for this work they must give the goddess 
Freia to the giants. The giants come for their pay. But 
the god Wotan objects to parting with Freia. The giants 
grow angry. The gods hear that the dwarf has stolen the 
gold, and promise to confiscate it and to pay the giants with 
it. But the giants won't trust them, and seize the goddess 
Freia in pledge. 

The third scene takes place under ground. Alberich, the 
dwarf who stole the gold, for some reason beats another 
dwarf, Mime, and takes from him a helmet which has the 
power both of making people invisible and of turning them 
into animals. The gods, Wotan and others, appear and 
quarrel with one another and with the dwarfs, and wish to 
take the gold, but Alberich won't give it up, and (like every- 
body all through the piece) behaves in a way to ensure his 

353 



354 TOLSTOY ON ART 

own ruin. He puts on the helmet, and becomes first a dragon 
and then a toad. The gods catch the toad, take the helmet 
off it, and carry Alberich away with them. 

Scene IV. The gods bring Alberich to their home and 
order him to command his dwarfs to bring them all the gold. 
The dwarfs bring it. Alberich gives up the gold but keeps 
a magic ring. The gods take the ring. So Alberich curses 
the ring and says it is to bring misfortune on anyone who has 
it. The giants appear; they bring the goddess Freia and 
demand her ransom. They stick up staves of Freia's height, 
and gold is poured in between these staves: this is to be the 
ransom. There is not enough gold, so the helmet is thrown 
in, and they demand the ring also. Wotan refuses to give it 
up, but the goddess Erda appears and commands him to do 
so because it brings misfortune. Wotan gives it up. Freia 
is released. The giants, having received the ring, fight, and 
one of them kills the other. This ends the Prelude, and we 
come to the First Day. 

The scene shows a house in a tree. Siegmund runs in 
tired, and lies down. Sieglinda, the mistress of the house 
(and wife of Hunding), gives him a drugged draught and 
they fall in love with each other. Sieglinda's husband comes 
home, learns that Siegmund belongs to a hostile race, and 
wishes to fight him next day; but Sieglinda drugs her hus- 
band and comes to Siegmund. Siegmund discovers that 
Sieglinda is his sister, and that his father drove a sword into 
the tree so that no one can get it out. Siegmund pulls the 
sword out, and commits incest with his sister. 

Act II. Siegmund is to fight with Hunding. The gods 
discuss the question as to whom they shall award the victory. 
Wotan, approving of Siegmund's incest with his sister, wishes 
to spare him, but under pressure from his wife, Fricka, he 
orders the Valkyrie Briinnhilda to kill Siegmund. Sieg- 
mund goes to fight. Sieglinda faints. Briinnhilda appears 




WHAT IS ART? 355 

and wishes to slay Siegmund. Siegmund wishes to kill 
Sieglinda also, but Briinnhilda does not allow it, and he 
fights with Hunding. Briinnhilda defends Siegmund, but 
Wotan defends Hunding. Siegmund's sword breaks, and 
he is killed. Sieglinda runs away. 

Act III. The Valkyries (divine Amazons) are on the 
stage. The Valkyrie Briinnhilda arrives on horseback, 
bringing Siegmund's body. She is flying from Wotan, who 
is chasing her for her disobedience. Wotan catches her, and 
as a punishment dismisses her from her post as a Valkyrie. 
He also casts a spell on her, so that she has to go to sleep and 
continue asleep until a man wakes her. When someone 
wakes her she will fall in love with him. Wotan kisses her; 
she falls asleep. He lets off fire, which surrounds her. 

We now come to the Second Day. The dwarf Mime 
forges a sword in a wood. Siegfried appears. He is a son 
born from the incest of brother with sister (Siegmund with 
Sieglinda), and has been brought up in this wood by the 
dwarf. In general the motives for the actions of everybody 
in this production are quite unintelligible. Siegfried learns 
his own origin, and that the broken sword was his father's. 
He orders Mime to re-forge it, and then goes off. Wotan 
comes in the guise of a wanderer and relates what will 
happen: that he who has not learnt to fear will forge the 
sword and will defeat everybody. The dwarf conjectures 
that this is Siegfried, and wants to poison him. Siegfried 
returns, forges his father's sword, and runs off, shouting, 
"Heiho heiho heiho! Ho ho! Aha! oho! aha! Heiaho! 
heiaho! heiaho! Ho! ho! Hahei! hoho! hahei!" 

And we get to Act II. Alberich sits guarding a giant, 
who, in form of a dragon, guards the gold he has received. 
Wotan appears, and for some unknown reason foretells that 
Siegfried will come and kill the dragon. Alberich wakes 
the dragon and asks him for the ring, promising to defend 



356 TOLSTOY ON ART 

him from Siegfried. The dragon won't give up the ring. 
Exit Alberich. Mime and Siegfried appear. Mime hopes 
the dragon will teach Siegfried to fear. But Siegfried does 
not fear. He drives Mime away and kills the dragon, after 
which he puts his finger, smeared with the dragon's blood, 
to his lips. This enables him to know men's secret thoughts, 
as well as the language of birds. The birds tell him where 
the treasure and the ring are, and also that Mime wishes to 
poison him. Mime returns and says out loud that he wishes 
to poison Siegfried. This is meant to signify that Siegfried, 
having tasted dragon's blood, understands people's secret 
thoughts. Siegfried, having learnt Mime's intentions, kills 
him. The birds tell Siegfried where Briinnhilda is, and he 
goes to find her. 

Act III. Wotan calls up Erda. Erda prophesies to 
Wotan, and gives him advice. Siegfried appears, quarrels 
with Wotan, and they fight. Suddenly Siegfried's sword 
breaks Wotan's spear, which had been more powerful than 
anything else. Siegfried goes into the fire to Briinnhilda and 
kisses her; she wakes up, abandons her divinity, and throws 
herself into Siegfried's arms. 

Third Day. Prelude. Three Norns plait a golden rope 
and talk about the future. They go away. Siegfried and 
Briinnhilda appear. Siegfried takes leave of her, gives her 
the ring, and goes away. 

Act I. By the Rhine. A king wants to get married and 
also to give his sister in marriage. Hagen, the king's wicked 
brother, advises him to marry Briinnhilda and to give his 
sister to Siegfried. Siegfried appears; they give him a 
drugged draught, which makes him forget all the past and 
fall in love with the king's sister, Gutrune. So he rides 
off with Gunther, the king, to get Briinnhilda to be the king's 
bride. The scene changes. Briinnhilda sits with the ring. 
A Valkyrie comes to her and tells her that Wotan's spear is 



WHAT IS ART? 357 

broken, and advises her to give the ring to the Rhine nymphs. 
Siegfried comes and by means of the magic helmet turns him- 
self into Gunther, demands the ring from Briinnhilda, seizes 
it, and drags her off to sleep with him. 

Act II. By the Rhine. Alberich and Hagen discuss how 
to get the ring. Siegfried comes, tells how he has obtained 
a bride for Gunther and how he spent the night with her but 
put a sword between himself and her. Briinnhilda rides up, 
recognises the ring on Siegfried's hand, and declares that it 
was he, and not Gunther, who was with her. Hagen stirs 
everybody up against Siegfried, and decides to kill him 
next day when hunting. 

Act III. Again the nymphs in the Rhine relate what has 
happened. Siegfried, who has lost his way, appears. The 
nymphs ask him for the ring but he won't give it up. Hunters 
appear. Siegfried tells the story of his life. Hagen then 
gives him a draught which causes his memory to return to 
him. Siegfried relates how he aroused and obtained Briinn- 
hilda, and everyone is astonished. Hagen stabs him in the 
back, and the scene is changed. Gutrune meets the corpse 
of Siegfried. Gunther and Hagan quarrel about the ring, 
and Hagan kills Gunther. Briinnhilda cries. Hagen wishes 
to take the ring from Siegfried's hand, but the hand of the 
corpse raises itself threateningly. Briinnhilda takes the ring 
from Siegfried's hand, and when Siegfried's corpse is carried 
to the pyre she gets on to a horse and leaps into the fire. The 
Rhine rises, and the waves reach the pyre. In the river are 
three nymphs. Hagen throws himself into the fire to get the 
ring, but the nymphs seize him and carry him off. One of 
them holds the ring; and that is the end of the matter. 

The impression obtainable from my recapitulation is of 
course incomplete. But however incomplete it may be it is 
certainly infinitely more favourable than the impression 
which results from reading the four booklets in which the 
work is printed. 



PART XIV 
TOLSTOY'S VIEW OF ART 

The substance of the following article appeared in the 
Contemporary Review, August 1900, as a reply to critics who 
had misquoted, misrepresented, or misunderstood Tolstoy. 
Their attacks were too ephemeral for it to be necessary to 
reproduce the polemical part of the reply; but, as previously 
remarked, what is worth preserving is an explanation of 
Tolstoy's position, which as it obtained his unqualified ap- 
proval is conclusive on certain matters in dispute. In order 
to give the statement in the words Tolstoy endorsed I have 
retained some passages which have appeared in previous 
chapters of this book, and can only apologize to my readers 
for these repetitions. 

Tolstoy had great difficulty in presenting his opinions (es- 
pecially his religious and philosophic opinions) to the world. 
Several of his books were prohibited in Russia. Those 
printed in Geneva were carelessly edited, and (missing the 
attention Tolstoy usually gave to his proof-sheets) contained 
errors that tripped up his translators. Other works of his, 
permitted in Russia, were tampered with by the Censor, who 
struck out what Tolstoy wrote and inserted words he objected 
to, as, for instance, was the case in the Russian edition of 
What is Art? 

But, for non-Russian readers, the heaviest blow to Tolstoy's 
reputation as a clear and sane thinker was struck, not by the 
Censor, but by translators who failed to reproduce his 
thought. Versions of some of his most serious works ap- 
peared containing much absolute nonsense. They were 
issued at a time when readers, surprised that a novelist should 

358 



TOLSTOYS VIEW OF ART 359 

undertake philosophic work, were wondering whether they 
ought to regard Tolstoy seriously in his new role; and they 
caused some to conclude that, as a philosopher, he need not 
be taken seriously. 1 Jnr*** . 

A man who spoke the truth as he saw it under constant risk 
of persecution, whose works were suppressed or mutilated at 
home and badly edited abroad, who was translated so that he 
was made to assert what he in fact denied, has a special claim 
to fair treatment at the hands of reviewers. But this claim 
was not always recognized. 

His rank among the foremost writers of fiction was not 
questioned; but some of his philosophical works treating of 
human conduct, activities, institutions, and beliefs, had a 
different fate. When What is Art? appeared, it had a mixed 
reception, though some leading critics saw its value and one 
of them hailed it as "the most important essay in pure criti- 
cism of recent years, and destined to become a classic." 

Tolstoy had in this book said much that was new, 
startling, and not quickly digestible; and he had expressed 
it so caustically, had been so severe on critics, specialists, 
professional artists, and art-schools, as well as on whole 
groups of people from spiritualists to scientists including 
fifty or more well-known people then living, into the bargain 
he had, in fact, hit out so freely and so hard that counter- 
attacks of considerable asperity were inevitable. In reply 
to such attacks the following pages were written. 

No department of science, as Veron justly remarks, has been 
more generally abandoned to the dreams of the metaphysi- 
cians than esthetic philosophy. The task Tolstoy undertook 

1 The existence of such editions was a factor in inducing one hundred and twenty 
very distinguished English and American writers, dramatists, critics, and pub- 
licists, to endorse a letter written by G. Bernard Shaw to the press, in 1922, ask- 
ing the public to support the "Maude Tolstoys," in the Oxford University Press 
edition, and thus make commercially possible the completion of a reliable and 
satisfactory rendering of Tolstoy's works in English. 



360 TOLSTOY ON ART 

was to clear up the "the frightful obscurity which reigns in 
this region of speculation." 

What is Art? Its manifestations are "bounded on one side 
by the practically useful and on the other by unsuccessful 
attempts at art." But what working definition of art have 
we that would enable us to feel sure that this or that produc- 
tion of human activity is a work of art? The answer at first 
seems very simple to those "who talk without thinking." 
They are accustomed to say that "Art is such activity as pro- 
duces beauty." But this only shifts the matter a step. We 
have now to ask for a working definition of beauty, and on 
careful examination we find that this has nowhere been given. 
Every attempt to define beauty objectively, as consisting 
"either in utility, or in adjustment to a purpose, or in sym- 
metry, or in order, or in proportion, or in smoothness, or in 
harmony of the parts, or in unity amid variety, or in 
various combinations of these" (p. 161), has broken down 
utterly, and we have nothing left but a subjective definition 
which amounts to this, that beauty is "that which pleases us" 
without evoking in us desire. In other words, "Beauty is 
simply a certain kind of disinterested pleasure received by us." 
This definition seems clear enough, but unfortunately it is 
inexact, and can be widened to include the pleasure derived 
from drink, from food, from touching a delicate skin, and so 
forth, as is done by Guyau, Kralik, and other estheticians. 

A yet more serious trouble is, that different things please 
different people. Instead of getting a solid basis for a science, 
we get landed in confusion arising from the fact that tastes 
differ. If we use the word beauty in our definition of art, 
and if beauty means "that which pleases," and if different 
things please different people our definition is useless. One 
man will say a certain thing is a work of art because it 
pleases him, another will reply that it is not a work of art 
because he does not like it. 



TOLSTOYS VIEW OF ART 361 

And this is precisely what has happened and is happening. 
Is Walt Whitman a great poet? Yes, says A, he is, because 
I like his poems and agree with them. No, says B, he is not, 
because I don't like his poems and disagree with them. 

Thus the science of esthetics has as yet failed to get even 
a start. It has not told us what art is, still less has it enabled 
us to judge of the quality of art. "So that the whole exist- 
ing science of esthetics fails to do what we might expect from 
it, being a mental activity calling itself a science: namely, 
it does not define the qualities and laws of art, or of the 
beautiful (if that be the content of art), or the nature of 
taste (if taste decides the question of art and its merit), and 
then on the basis of such definitions acknowledge as art 
those productions which correspond to these laws, and reject 
those which do not come under them. But this science of 
esthetics consists in first acknowledging a certain set of pro- 
ductions to be art (because they please us), and then framing 
such a theory of art that all these productions which please a 
certain circle of people should fit into it" (p. 164). 

Such being the case, reasonable men should be not merely 
ready but anxious to avoid the use of the word beauty in 
framing their definition of art, and should select words which 
mean the same thing to each of us who use them. Yet, 
strange to say, the estheticians, the specialists, and the "cul- 
tured crowd," cling tenaciously and even fanatically to the use 
of a word they cannot define in a serviceable manner. They 
are as angry with anyone who protests against its use in a 
scientific definition, as the Scarboro' roughs * are with a 
Quaker who says that men ought not to kill one another. 

"As is always the case, the more cloudy and confused the 
conception conveyed by a word, with the more aplomb and 
self-assurance do people use that word, pretending that what 

1 Written soon after the Rowntrees had been attacked by a patriotic mob, 
whose feelings were harrowed by an attempt to hold a peace-meeting. 



362 TOLSTOY ON ART 

is understood by it is so simple and clear that it is not worth 
while even to discuss what it actually means. This is how 
matters of orthodox religion are usually dealt with, and this 
is how people now deal with the conception of beauty" 
(p. 137). 

For his part, Tolstoy prefers to understand, and to let other 
people understand, what he means by the words he uses, and 
he has therefore framed a definition of art which avoids all 
obscurity. 

"Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man 
consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to 
others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are 
infected by these feelings and also experience them" (p. 173). 

Art is possible because we share one common human nature. 
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. All who 
are capable of experiencing "that simple feeling familiar to 
the plainest man and even to a child^ that sense of infection 
with another's feeling compelling us to joy in another's glad- 
ness, to sorrow at another's grief, and to mingle souls with 
another" (p. 273), possess the mental and emotional telegraph 
wires along which an artist's influence may pass. 

A common crowd may be swayed by an orator, but not by 
the ablest mathematical lecturer; for whereas thoughts can 
only be transferred to minds sufficiently prepared to receive 
them, the feelings that are the birthright of our common 
humanity are shared by all normal people. When an orator 
fails to sway his audience, we say the orator has failed, not 
the audience. But when a boy fails to understand the fifth 
proposition because he has not understood those that preceded 
it, we do not say that Euclid has failed but that the boy has 
not understood him. Science is a human activity transmit- 
ting thoughts from man to man: Art is a human activity 
transmitting feelings. They have some features in common. 
Clearness, simplicity, and compression, are desirable in both, 




TOLSTOY'S VIEW OF ART 363 

and the same book or the same speech may contain both 
science and art. It is desirable to discriminate clearly be- 
tween the one and the other, though both alike are "indis- 
pensable means of communication, without which mankind 
could not exist" (pp. 175 and 321). 

Before passing from definitions to deductions based on 
them, reference should be made to the physiological evolu- 
tionary definition of Schiller, Darwin, and Herbert Spencer, 
which Tolstoy sums up thus: "Art is an activity arising 
even in the animal kingdom and 'springing from sexual desire 
and the propensity to play' " (p. 169). This, though superior 
to the definitions which depend on the conception of beauty, 
is unsatisfactory because, "instead of speaking about the ar- 
tistic activity itself, which is the real matter in hand, it treats 
of the derivation of art" (p. 169). 

Accepting Tolstoy's definition of art, we at once see that 
art covers a much wider ground than we have been accustomed 
to suppose. 

"We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we 
hear and see in theatres, concerts, and exhibitions; together 
with buildings, statues, poems, novels. . . . But all this is 
but the smallest part of the art by which we communicate 
with each other in life. All human life is filled with works of 
art of every kind from cradle-song, jest, mimicry, the orna- 
mentation of houses, dress, and utensils, up to church services, 
buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. It is all 
artistic activity" (p. 174). 

But we generally use the word in a special and restricted 
sense to mean, not all human activity that deliberately and 
with premeditation transmits feelings, "but only that part 
which we for some reason select from it, and to which we 
attach special importance" (pp. 174-175). 

Before considering what kind of art deserves to be thus 
specially selected for our highest esteem, we must clearly 



364 TOLSTOY ON ART 

distinguish between two different things: the subject-matter 
of art and the form of art apart from its subject-matter. This 
distinction is fundamentally important and, as soon as it is 
made, the vexed question of the relation of art to morality 
solves itself easily and inevitably. 

Let us take art apart from its subject-matter first. 

"There is one indubitable sign distinguishing real art 
from its counterfeit namely, the infectiousness of art. If 
a man without exercising effort, and without altering his 
standpoint, on reading, hearing, or seeing, another man's 
work experiences a mental condition which unites him with 
that man and with other people who also partake of that 
work, then the object evoking that condition is a work of 
art" (p. 274). 

"And not only is infection a sure sign of art, but the de- 
gree of infectiousness is also the sole measure of excellence 
in art." 

"The stronger the infection the better is the art, as art, 
speaking now apart from its subject-matter that is, not con- 
sidering the quality of the feelings it transmits" (p. 275). 

From this point of view, art has really nothing to do with 
morality. The feelings transmitted may be good or bad 
feelings, and may produce the best or the worst results on 
those who are influenced by them, yet in either case the man 
who transmits them is an artist. 

"The feelings with which the artist infects others may be 
most various very strong or very weak, very important or 
very insignificant, very bad or very good: feelings of love 
for native land, self-devotion and submission to fate or to 
God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in 
a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, 
courage expressed in a triumphal march, merriment evoked 
by a dance, humor evoked by a funny story, the feeling of 



TOLSTOY'S VIEW OF ART 365 

quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a lull- 
aby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful ara- 
besqueit is all art" (pp. 172-173). 

If you have not lost the capacity usually possessed by 
people leading a sane and natural life to share the feelings 
expressed by others, you may try the quality of a production 
first of all by this internal test: Does it unite you in feeling 
with its author and with others who are exposed to its in- 
fluence? Only if it does this, have you any right to testify 
to its being a work of art. 

If you are infected by the work, and are therefore sure 
that it is a work of art, the next question is whether it is a 
weak work of "exclusive" art, or a great work of "universal" 
art. It may influence you who have, perhaps, been spe- 
cially trained and accustomed to that kind of art, or who share 
the prepossessions of the artist and belong to his set, class, 
school, sect, or race, but is it capable of influencing men 
of other classes, races, and ages? Here the primary internal 
test is supplemented by an external one. There are works 
of "universal" art (using the word, of course, in a compara- 
tive and not in an absolute sense). The Iliad, the Odyssey, 
the story of Joseph, the Psalms, the Gospel parables, the story 
of Sakya Muni, the hymns of the Vedas, the best folk-legends, 
fairy-tales, and folk-songs, are understood by all. If only 
they are adequately rendered, and are received not supersti- 
tiously but with an open mind, they are "quite comprehensible 
now to us, educated or uneducated, as they were comprehen- 
sible to the men of those times, long ago, who were even less 
educated than our labourers" (p. 126). 

Even a strictly national art, such as Japanese decorative 
art, may be admirable and "universal." "The feeling (of 
admiration at, and delight in, the combination of lines and 
colours) which the artist has experienced, and with which he 



366 TOLSTOY ON ART 

infects the spectator" (p. 295), may be so sincere that it acts 
on men of other races without demanding from them any 
laborious preparation before they can enjoy it. 

When we find ourselves admiring "exclusive art," we 
must beware of flattering ourselves with the supposition 
that great masses of people do not like what we consider un- 
doubtedly good because they are not sufficiently developed, 
while we are very superior people. Perhaps we admire and 
enjoy these things, not because they are very good but merely 
because we have trained ourselves to admire them and have 
got into the habit of doing so. But "people may habituate 
themselves to anything, even to the very worst things. As 
people may habituate themselves to bad food, to spirits, to- 
bacco, and opium, just in the same way they may habituate 
themselves to bad art and that is exactly what is being 
done" (p. 224). 

Nor should we let our self-sufficiency blind us to the ob- 
vious lesson of history: "we know that the majority of the 
productions of the art of the upper classes, such as various 
odes, poems, dramas, cantatas, pastorals, pictures, and so 
forth, which delighted people of the upper classes when they 
were produced, never were afterwards either understood or 
valued by the great masses of mankind, but have remained 
what they were at first, a mere pastime for the rich people of 
their time, for whom alone they ever were of any impor- 
tance" (pp. 194-5) 

"Art is a human activity," and, consequently, does not exist 
for its own sake, but is valuable or objectionable in propor- 
tion to the benefit or the harm it brings to mankind. Its 
subject-matter consists of feelings which are contagious or 
infectious that is, which can spread from man to man. Is 
it not supremely important what feelings spread among us ? 

From this point of view the connection between morality 



TOLSTOY'S VIEW OF ART 367 

and art is intimate and inevitable. It is a fact of human life 
from which we can no more escape than we can from 
gravitation. 

Art unites men; and the better the feelings in which it 
unites them the better it will be for humanity. 

But which are the best and highest feelings? How are 
we to discern or to define them? They have differed, and 
men's definitions of them have differed, from age to age; 
but, as Tolstoy explains, each age has had its dominant view 
of life, which may be called its "religious perception." Hu- 
manity progresses, and our view of life, our religious per- 
ception, is in many things different from that, say, of the 
ancient Greeks. In relation not to the forms of art but to its 
subject-matter it would be a mistake to suppose "that the 
very best that can be done by the art of nations after nineteen 
hundred years of Christian teaching, is to choose as the ideal 
of their life the ideal that was held by a small, semi-savage, 
slave-holding people who lived two thousand years ago, who 
imitated the nude human body extremely well, and erected 
buildings pleasant to look at" (pp. 188-189). 

And Tolstoy, having begun by giving us his definition of 
art, concludes by giving us a statement of the view of life he 
has accepted and which he believes is influencing us all 
whether we know it or not. It is, he says, Christ's teach- 
ing in its real and not in its customary and perverted 
meaning. 

"That meaning has not only become accessible to all men 
of our times, but the whole life of man to-day is permeated by 
the spirit of that teaching, and consciously or unconsciously 
is guided by it" (pp. 308-309). 

"The religious perception of our time in its widest and 
most practical application is the consciousness that our well- 
being, both material and spiritual, individual and collective, 



368 TOLSTOY ON ART 

temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of brotherhood 
among men in their loving harmony with one another" 
(p. 281). 

And whether we accept this view of life or some other, 
it is certain that the view we hold will influence our ap- 
proval or disapproval of the various feelings transmitted by 
art. 

Accepting Tolstoy's standpoint, we should allow the highest 
honour to "positive feelings of love to God and one's neigh- 
bour, and negative feelings of indignation and horror at the 
violation of love"; but the realm of subject-matter for good 
art includes much more than that. 

"The artist of the future will understand that to com- 
pose a fairy-tale, a touching little song, a lullaby or an 
entertaining riddle, an amusing jest, or to draw a sketch in 
such a way that it will delight dozens of generations or 
millions of children and adults, is incomparably more im- 
portant and more fruitful than to compose a novel or a 
symphony, or paint a picture, of the kind which will divert 
some members of the wealthy classes for a short time and 
then for ever be forgotten. The region of this art of the 
simple feelings accessible to all is enormous and it is as yet 
almost untouched" (p. 318). 

The artist should know that this art of the simple feelings 
of common life, like the highest religious art, tends to unite 
us all and to exclude none, as in the example Tolstoy gives on 
p. 287 of the effect of music. 

Thus, apart from subject-matter, the best art is that which 
best accomplishes its purpose of infecting others with the 
feelings the artist wishes to impart. And the best subject- 
matter is that which, directly or indirectly, tends to forward 
brotherly union among all men. 

The good art of the future should be superior to our 
present art in "clearness, beauty, simplicity, and compres- 



TOLSTOY'S VIEW OF ART 369 

sion," for one penalty of forgetting the primary aim of art is 
that we greatly lose that which is a natural accompaniment 
of art the pleasure given by beauty. We are like men who, 
living to eat, eventually lose even the natural pleasure food 
affords to those who eat to live. 

Such, in brief outline, are Tolstoy's essential views of art. 
Even so bare and incomplete a recapitulation, stripped as 
it is of the convincing arguments, the brilliant examples, 
and the masterly support and elucidation which are crammed 
into the pages of his remarkable book may suffice to show 
that it is a work deserving careful consideration. 

To the above, written soon after What is Art? was first 
published, I should like now, in 1924, to add a few words. 

The chief idea in What is Art? besides its definition of 
art, is Tolstoy's insistence on the need to discriminate between 
the form and the content of art. For its full assimilation 
this requires reflection, which either because the philosophy 
of art does not interest them, or because they are satisfied 
with previously adopted opinions they do not wish to disturb 
not all are willing to accord to it. But the test of a 
great philosophy, I once heard Tolstoy say, is that the idea it 
generalizes can be so simply stated that an intelligent boy 
of twelve approaching the subject free from prejudice can 
understand it in half-an-hour : and I think both Tolstoy's 
definition, and his explanation of the need to consider the 
form of art as a matter distinct from our approval and dis- 
approval of the feeling the artist transmits, will stand that 
crucial test. They can be put so simply that an unprejudiced 
boy of twelve can readily understand them. 

One must however be on one's guard against confusing 
the subject treated of (a particular event: a murder, a seduc- 
tion, a marriage or an object, such as the sea, the sky, a 
house, a tiger, or a baby) with the subject-matter of feeling, 
which is the real content of a work of art. In Tolstoy's 



370 TOLSTOY ON ART 

definition it is a feeling or feelings, and their transitions, that 
when expressed by an artist, form the subject-matter of art. 
The events treated of in a book, a play, a picture, or song 
are merely material used in expressing that feeling, and 
must not themselves be thought of as the subject-matter. 
The affection of a child for its mother or its dog may 
be the subject-matter of a work of art, so may an apprecia- 
tion of the effect of certain arrangements of colours and 
shapes, the mirth and jollity expressed and inspired by a 
dance-tune or by the movements of a dance, the feelings of 
awe produced by the representation of a terrible storm, or any 
other possible feelings or transitions of feeling: the rage of 
an excited crowd, the triumph of a victorious nation, the 
despair of a man ruined or betrayed, or feelings evoked by 
the play of light and shade, by the delicate bloom of a flower, 
or by the graceful tracery of a tree seen against a winter sky. 
When asking oneself whether a certain production is a work 
of art, ^ one has to consider whether we feel something the 
artist has felt and caused us to share. If one feels that, it 
is evident that we have before us a work of art our own 
feelings witness to the artist's achievement. Sometimes 
however the pleasure this union of feeling with the artist 
and perhaps with many spectators, auditors or readers 
would naturally produce, is infringed by a consciousness that 
one disapproves of, or disagrees with, the feelings that for 
the moment have infected us. 

For instance, many Irishmen are born orators, and oratory 
is an art. Suppose one went to two great public meetings, 
addressed by two really first-rate speakers. Each of these 
is moved by a genuine and passionate feeling. Each has 
the gift of arranging his matter admirably and expressing 
it forcibly and eloquently, and possesses an excellent voice. 
Each sways his audience to laughter and tears, and plays on 
their emotions as on an organ, compelling them to sympathize 



TOLSTOYS VIEW OF ART 371 

with his detestation for what he abhors and his enthusiasm 
for what he prizes. We may feel that we have heard great 
orations admirably delivered, but the feelings underlying 
these speeches have clashed with one another. One of the 
speakers was moved by ardent desire to maintain and inten- 
sify an age-long struggle, and repudiates with contumely 
any idea of union with a section of the population that he 
hates and despises. He was genuinely moved by the recol- 
lection of racial wrongs and sincerely devoted to leaders he 
regarded as heroes and martyrs; but animosity, hatred, and 
revenge, possessed his soul. The other orator was moved 
by a desire to bind up the nation's wounds, to forgive and 
forget past wrongs, and to see a neighbouring people become 
a united and peaceful nation at harmony with itself and its 
neighbours. One might sympathize with either tendency, but 
it is impossible to sympathize equally with them both, or to 
close one's eyes to the fact that the welfare of human beings 
will be influenced by whichever feeling prevails. Tolstoy ex- 
plains that when we judge whether a certain production (such 
as one of these speeches) is a work of art, we must remember 
that our approval or disapproval of a man's purpose or aspira- 
tion must have nothing whatever to do with our estimation of 
the excellence of the form in which he presents his subject- 
matter. To that extent art "has nothing to do with morality." 
The best and the worst emotions may alike be conveyed with 
great artistic power and be great works of art, and that is 
just why art, besides being vastly important, can also be very 
dangerous. 

But when we have seen that a certain production is artistic, 
and have even perhaps ourselves been touched by it, 
the question arises whether the "content" (the subject-matter 
of feeling) dealt with is good, bad, or indifferent. The 
actions of men flow from their feelings. Their feelings are 
formed, nurtured, and swayed, by the art they enjoy and 



372 TOLSTOY ON ART 

partake of, so that there was much reason for Fletcher of 
Saltoun to say, "Let me make a nation's songs, and who will 
may make its laws." 

We live in a world in which sane human beings cannot 
but distinguish between what appears to them abominable 
and what appears to them admirable. When therefore we 
are moved by our artists we cannot be indifferent to the 
effect their works produce. 

If art had nothing to do with the feelings of men it would 
be an empty and insignificant amusement; but all that in- 
fluences man's feelings affects his work, his conduct, and the 
society to which he belongs. Yet, obviously, to say that the 
morality of an artist's aim decides the artistic merit of his 
work, and that, for instance, a novel must be a fine one be- 
cause it advocates temperance principles, though people can 
only be got to read it if they are forced to do so, would show 
that the speaker had never thought about the matter, or that 
his artistic perceptions were atrophied. 

But we are still not at the end of the matter. Who is to 
decide what is good and what is bad in the feeling which 
forms the subject-matter of art? Such judgment must vary 
from age to age, from land to land, and even from man to 
man; for while all sane human beings have their approvals 
and disapprovals, the outlook on life (or what Tolstoy calls 
"the religious perceptions") guiding such approvals and dis- 
approvals vary greatly. 

It comes to this, that the subject-matter of feeling trans- 
mitted by artists to those who receive their art is of necessity 
appraised by us in accordance with our own outlook on life. 
Tolstoy rightly points out this inevitable contact of art with 
ethics, but his own ethical standards, his "religious per- 
ceptions" are not those generally accepted among us. A 
discussion of his ethics would be out of place here. Else- 
where I have ventured to join issue with him on some mat- 



TOLSTOY'S VIEW OF ART 373 

ters, while on others it seems to me that he made straight 
the pathway of the Lord. 

Now obviously when passing from the acknowledgment 
of various productions as works of art because their form is 
adequate and they achieve their purpose of infecting us with 
the feelings their creators had experienced Tolstoy dis- 
cusses, as a separate matter, whether certain feelings these 
artists transmitted are beneficial or otherwise, it is inevitable 
that those who differ from his ethical views should disagree 
with his conclusions. But this difference as to ethics should 
not hinder an appreciation of the importance of his under- 
standing of art ! He was a great artist, a first-class novelist, 
dramatist, and story-writer, besides being an amateur 
musician, keenly interested in painting, sculpture, and other 
forms of art, and he was also well acquainted with artists of 
all kinds and with the whole literature of art. Is it not worth 
our while to understand his message and grasp his meaning 
clearly before attempting to answer him? 

As an example of criticism tending to confuse matters, I 
will instance this case: after making the broad distinction 
between the form of art and its subject-matter, Tolstoy passes 
on to the totally different question of what feelings com- 
mended themselves to him. He says he attaches no special 
importance to the examples he cites but offers them merely to 
elucidate his meaning. Among books expressing feelings of 
which he approved, he instances Uncle Tom's Cabin, and 
immediately certain critics pounced upon this, and say that as 
Mrs. Beecher Stowe did not write as well as someone else 
whom they mentioned, Tolstoy's example shows that he was 
incapable of judging about art! Such criticism shows a 
curious incapacity to understand what is being discussed. 
Similarly objections to pictures mentioned by Tolstoy as 
good in subject-matter on the ground of alleged defects in 
form miss the point of the discussion. 



374 TOLSTOY ON ART 

When a book deals frankly and plainly with an important 
subject it is strange that anyone, instead of seeking the gold 
in the mine, should prefer to search for obscurity, contradic- 
tion, over-emphasis, or any ill-advised examples that can 
be detected; and that some critics should go the length of 
asserting that the author meant the opposite of what he 
plainly says. 

I do not see why anyone should object to, or disagree with, 
Tolstoy's explanation of art and of its influence on life; nor 
with his assertion that when we pass from a consideration 
of the form of works of art to a consideration of the value of 
the feelings they convey, our appraisement of these latter is 
inevitably influenced by our outlook on life. But an impor- 
tant reservation must be made when we come to his assurance 
that "the religious perception of our time, in its widest and 
most practical application, is the consciousness that our well- 
being both material and spiritual, individual and collective, 
temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of brotherhood 
among all men, in their loving harmony with one another," 
and that "all men of our times already admit that the highest 
well-being attainable by men is to be reached by their union 
with one another." 

If all men had such a religious perception, there would be 
a much greater consensus of opinion concerning the value 
of feelings transmitted by art. But it is just here, it seems 
to me, that the real clash of opinion and feeling comes in. 
There are among us many worshippers of Mars, Mammon, 
Venus and Bacchus (under whatever disguises), and though 
they may not publicly proclaim or explain their religious per- 
ceptions, it is impossible for them honestly to sympathize 
with what Tolstoy wishes them to approve of. During the 
last thirty years of his life Tolstoy disapproved of patriotism 
and of private property. Rudyard Kipling approves of 
both. Each of these men was an artist in words. The 



TOLSTOYS VIEW OF ART 375 

divergence of their estimates of what is good and what is bad 
did not prevent them from producing works of art ; but neither 
of them could think that all the feelings with which the other 
infected his readers were desirable. Before considering the 
matter, people are sometimes apt to resent the idea that ethical 
standards vary from place to place or from time to time; 
or, on realizing that such is the fact, they try to think that 
it is possible for a sane man to cease to approve or disapprove 
of anything. It does not however need much experience to 
perceive that men cannot live in the chaos that results when 
they have no sort of chart or guide by which to steer their 
course through life. In other words whether a man is a 
materialist or a spiritualist, and whatever his aspirations 
may be, he always, more or less consciously and definitely, 
has what Tolstoy calls "a religious perception." 

In an interesting essay on Religion and Morality 1 (1894) 
Tolstoy classified existing "religious perceptions" in three 
groups : ( 1 ) Selfishness the religion, for instance, of all 
the babies who desire as much milk and warmth for them- 
selves as possible, and do not care what happens to the rest 
of the world; (2) Patriotism the religion of all who make 
the welfare of their family, clan, group, or nation (or even, 
as in the case of the Positivists, the whole of humanity) the 
chief aim of their life; and (3) those who recognize some 
supreme Lord or Law, whose service transcends any calcu- 
lable advantage accruing to themselves or to their group. 

There is truth in that classification, but one need only 
admit it, to realize that appreciation of the feelings conveyed 
by art must differ among us according to whether we adhere 
to the first, the second, or the third of those groups. 

This divergence relating to feelings which are the subject- 
matter of. art, should not extend to what Tolstoy says about 
the form of art, or its interrelation with the rest of life. 

1 Essays and Letters, "World's Classics" series. 



376 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Whatever God one worships can be greatly served by means 
of art. 

In an admirable little article on How to Read the Gospels 
(1896) 1 Tolstoy says: 

"To understand Christ's real teaching the chief thing is not to inter- 
pret the Gospels, but to understand them as they are written. And there- 
fore, to the question how Christ's teaching should be understood, I reply: 
If you wish to understand it read the Gospels. Read them, putting aside 
all foregone conclusions; read them with the sole desire to understand 
what is said there. But read them considerately, reasonably, and with 
discernment, and not haphazard or mechanically, as though all the words 
were of equal weight. 

"To understand any book one must choose out the parts that are quite 
clear, dividing them from what is obscure or confused. And from what 
is clear we must form our idea of the drift and spirit of the whole work. 
Then, on the basis of what we have understood, we may proceed to make 
out what is confused or not quite intelligible. That is how we read all 
kinds of books. 

"Therefore we must first of all separate what is quite simple and in- 
telligible from what is confused and unintelligible and must afterwards 
read this clear and intelligible part several times over, trying fully to 
assimilate it. Then, helped by the comprehension of the general mean- 
ing, we can try to explain to ourselves the drift of the parts which seemed 
involved and obscure. That was how I read the Gospels, and the mean- 
ing of Christ's teaching became so clear to me that it was impossible to 
have any doubts about it. And I advise everyone who wishes to under- 
stand the true meaning of Christ's teaching to follow the same plan." 

This advice, showing how "all kinds of books" should be 
read, is particularly applicable to the reading of Tolstoy's 
What is Art? The views there expressed are those of a 
man born nearly a century ago, who differed widely from 
ourselves in race, nationality, up-bringing, circumstances, 
and class, for he was a Russian nobleman of the old regime. 
That some of his feelings and ideas should differ from our 
own was inevitable, but the really remarkable thing is that 

1 Essays and Letters, "World's Classics" series. 



TOLSTOY'S VIEW OF ART 377 

so much of what he says makes us conscious of oneness with 
him. He was accustomed to express himself strongly, and 
assumed that those who read his works would wish to 
understand them and would not desire to twist his meaning. 
Those who deal with his work in the way he advised can 
certainly obtain a clear view of the subject, as he understood 
it. If what he has said is true, in whole or in part, it is 
desirable to grasp that truth arid, even if he be in error, it is 
desirable to understand his meaning before attempting any 
refutation. 

In What is Art? Tolstoy says: 

"I have accomplished to the best of my ability this work which has 
occupied me for fifteen years, on a subject near to me that of art. . . . 
I began to write on art fifteen years ago thinking that when once I under- 
took the task I should be able to accomplish it without a break. It 
proved however that my views on the matter were so far from clear that 
I could not arrange them in a way that satisfied me. From that time I 
have never ceased to think on the subject, and I have recommenced 
writing on it six or seven times ; but each time, after writing a considerable 
part of it, I have found myself unable to bring the work to a satisfactory 
conclusion, and have had to put it aside." (p. 321) 

That was written in 1897, and the fifteen years mentioned 
bring us nearly back to the time when his Confession was 
written, and the statement indicates that all the earlier essays 
in this book, while expressing some part of his thought, fail 
to elucidate the matter as he desired, and it is only in What 
is Art? that we must look for the final conclusions that solved 
the matter to his satisfaction. 



PART XV 

PREFACE TO POLENZ'S NOVEL 
"DER BUTTNERBAUER" 

W. von Polenz was born in 1861 and died in 1903. His 
novels, Der Pfarrer von Breitendorf (1893), Der Buttner- 
bauer (1895), are descriptions of village life. His Graben- 
hdger, Thekla Ludekind and Liebe ist ewig (1900) describe 
the life of the landowning and town classes. Wurzellocker 
(1902) describes a literary society. 

Note by A. M. 



"For you will find, if you think deeply of it, that the chief of all the 
curses of this unhappy age is the universal gabble of its fools, and of the 
flocks that follow them, rendering the quiet voices of the wise men of all 
past time inaudible. This is, first, the result of the invention of printing, 
and of the easy power and extreme pleasure to vain persons of seeing 
themselves in print. When it took a twelvemonth's hard work to make 
a single volume legible, men considered a little the difference between one 
book and another; but now, when not only anybody can get themselves 
made legible through any quantity of volumes, in a week, but the doing 
so becomes a means of living to them, and they can fill their stomachs 
with the foolish foam of their lips, the universal pestilence of falsehood 
fills the mind of the world as cicadas do olive-leaves, and the first neces- 
sity for our mental government is to extricate from among the insectile 
noise, the few books and words that are Divine." 

Ruskin, in Fors Clavigera, Letter 81. 

Last year a friend of mine, in whose taste I have confi- 
dence, gave me a German novel, Der Buttnerbauer, by von 
Polenz to read. I read it and was astonished that such a 
work, which appeared a couple of years ago, was hardly 
known by anyone. 

378 



"DER BUTTNERBAUER" 379 

This novel is not one of those works of imitation-art that 
are produced in such enormous quantities in our time, but 
a really artistic production. It is not one of those descrip- 
tions of events and of people, destitute of all interest, which 
are artificially put together merely because the author, hav- 
ing learned the technique of artistic descriptions, wants to 
write a new novel; nor is it one of those dissertations on a 
given theme set in the form of a drama or novel, which also 
in our day pass as artistic productions: nor does it belong 
to the class of works called "decadent, "which particularly 
please the modern public just because, resembling the ravings 
of a madman, they present something of the nature of re- 
buses, the guessing of which forms a pleasant occupation, 
besides being considered a sign of refinement. 

This novel belongs neither to the first, nor to the second, 
nor to the third, of these categories, but is a real work of 
art, in which the author says what he feels he must say be- 
cause he loves what he is speaking about, and says it not 
by reflections or hazy allegories but in the one manner by 
which an artistic content can be conveyed, by poetic images, 
not fantastic extraordinary unintelligible images with no es- 
sential inner connexion one with another, but by the pre- 
sentation of the most ordinary simple persons and events 
united one with another by an inner artistic necessity. 

But not only is this novel a genuine work of art, it is also 
an admirable work of art, uniting in a high degree all the 
three chief conditions of really good artistic production. 

In the first place, its content is important, relating as it 
does to the life of the peasantry that is, to the majority of 
mankind, who stand at the basis of every social structure and 
in our day, not only in Germany but in all European coun- 
tries, are enduring trying alterations of their ancient, age- 
long condition. (It is remarkable that almost simultane- 
ously with Der Biittnerbauer there has appeared a French 



380 TOLSTOY ON ART 

novel, Rene Bazin's La Terre qui meurt, which is not at all 
bad, though far less artistic.) 

In the second place, this novel is written with great 
mastery, in admirable German, particularly forcible when 
the author makes his characters speak the coarse peasant- 
labourer's Plattdeutsch. 

In the third place, this novel is thoroughly indued with 
love of these people whom the author sets before us. 

In one of the chapters, for instance, there is a description 
of how after a night passed in drunkenness with his com- 
rades, the husband, when it is already morning, returns home 
and knocks at the door. The wife looks out of the window 
and recognizes him; she loads him with abuse and is pur- 
posely slow about letting him in. When at last she opens 
the door for him, the husband tumbles in and wants to go 
into the large living-room, but the wife does not let him, 
lest the children should see their father drunk, and she pushes 
him back. But he catches hold of the lintel of the door 
and struggles with her. Usually a mild man, he suddenly 
becomes terribly exasperated (the cause of his exasperation 
is that, the day before, she had taken out of his pocket some 
money his master had given him, and had hidden it) and 
in his rage he flings himself upon her, seizes her by the hair, 
and demands his money. 

"I won't give it up, I won't give it up for anything!" 
says she in reply to his demands, trying to free herself from 
him. 

Then he, forgetting himself in his anger, strikes her where 
and as he can. 

"Ill die before I'll give it up!" says she. 

"You won't give it up!" he answers, knocking her off her 
feet and falling on her himself, while continuing to demand 
his money. Not receiving a reply he, in his mad drunken 



"DER BUTTNERBAUER" 381 

anger, wants to throttle her. But the sight of blood which 
trickles from under her hair and flows over her forehead and 
nose, causes him to stop. He becomes frightened at what he 
has done and, letting go of her, staggers and falls down on 
his bed. 

The scene is truthful and terrible. But the author loves 
his protagonists and adds one small detail which suddenly 
illuminates everything with such a vivid ray as compels the 
reader not only to pity, but also to love these people, despite 
their coarseness and cruelty. The wife who has been beaten 
comes to herself, rises from the floor, wipes her bleeding 
head with the hem of her skirt, feels her limbs and, opening 
the door leading to the crying children, quiets them, and 
then seeks her husband with her eyes. He is lying on the 
bed as he has fallen, but his head has slipped from the 
pillow. The wife walks over to him, carefully raises his head 
on the pillow, and after that adjusts her dress and picks 
off some of her hair that had been pulled out. 

Dozens of pages of discussions would not have said all 
that is said by this detail. Here at once the reader is shown 
the consciousness, educated by tradition, of conjugal duty and 
the triumph of a decision maintained not to give up the 
money needed, not for herself but for the family; here also 
is the offence, forgiveness of the beating, and pity, and if 
not love, at least the memory of love for her husband, the 
father of her children. Nor is that all. Such a detail, 
illuminating the inner life of this woman and this man, lights 
up for the reader the inner life of millions of such husbands 
and wives who have lived or are now living, and not only 
teaches respect and love for these people who are crushed 
by toil, but compels us to consider why and wherefore they, 
strong in soul and body, with such possibilities in them of 
good loving life, are so neglected, crushed, and ignorant. 



382 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And such truly artistic traits, which are revealed only by 
love of what the author describes, are met with in every 
chapter of this novel. 

It is undoubtedly a beautiful work of art, as all who read 
it will agree. And yet it appeared three years ago, and, 
though translated into Russian in the Messenger of Europe, 
has passed unnoticed both in Russia and in Germany. 
I have asked several literary Germans whom I have met re- 
cently about this novel they had heard Polenz's name but 
had not read his book, though they had all read the last 
novels of Zola, the last stories by Kipling, and the plays of 
Ibsen, d'Annunzio, and even of Maeterlinck. 

Some twenty years ago Matthew Arnold wrote an admi- 
rable article on the purpose of criticism. 1 In his opinion 
the purpose of criticism is to find among all that has been 
written, whenever and wherever it may be, that which is most 
important and good, and to direct the attention of readers to 
this that is important and good. 

In our time, when readers are deluged with newspapers, 
periodicals, books, and by the profusion of advertisements, 
not only does such criticism seem to me essential, but the 
whole future culture of the educated class of our European 
world depends on whether such criticism appears and ac- 
quires authority. 

The over-production of any kind of article is harmful; but 
the over-production of articles which are not an aim but a 
means is particularly harmful when people consider this 
means to be an aim. 

Horses and carriages as means of conveyance, clothing and 
houses as means of protection against changes of weather, 
good food to maintain the strength of one's organism, are 
very useful. But as soon as men begin to regard the pos- 
session of means as an end in itself, considering it good to 

1 The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, in Essays in Criticism. 



"DER BUTTNERBAUER" 383 

have as many horses, clothes, and houses, and as much food as 
possible, such articles become not only useless but simply 
harmful. And this has come about with book-production 
among the well-to-do circle of people of our European 
society. Printing, which is undoubtedly useful for the great 
masses of uneducated people, among well-to-do people has 
long ago become the chief organ for the dissemination of 
ignorance and not of enlightenment. 

It is easy to convince oneself of this. Books, periodicals, 
and especially newspapers, have become in our time great 
financial undertakings for the success of which the largest 
possible number of purchasers is required. But the interests 
and tastes of the largest number of purchasers are always 
low and vulgar, and so for the success of the productions 
of the press it is necessary that these productions should cor- 
respond to the demands of this great mass of purchasers, 
that is, that they should treat of mean interests and corres- 
pond to vulgar tastes. And the press fully satisfies these de- 
mands, having ample opportunity of doing so since among 
those who work for the press there are many more with the 
same mean interests and coarse tastes as the public than 
there are men with lofty interests and refined taste. And 
since with the diffusion of printing and the commercial 
methods applied to newspapers, periodicals, and books, these 
people receive good pay for matter that they supply cor- 
responding to the demands of the masses, there appears that 
terrible ever increasing and increasing deluge of printed 
paper, which by its quantity alone, not to speak of the harm- 
fulness of its contents, forms a vast obstacle to enlighten- 
ment. 

If in our day a clever young man of the people, wishing 
to educate himself, is given access to all books, period- 
icals, and newspapers, and the choice of his reading is left 
to himself, he will, if he reads for ten years assiduously every 



384. TOLSTOY ON ART 

day, in all probability read nothing but stupid and immoral 
books. It is as improbable that he will strike on a good book 
as it would be that he should find a marked pea in a bushel 
of peas. What is worst of all is that, continually reading 
bad books, he will more and more pervert his understanding 
and his taste, so that when he does come on a good work he 
will either be quite unable to understand it or will understand 
it perversely. 

Besides this, thanks to accident or to masterly advertise- 
ment, some bad works, such, for instance, as The Christian 
by Hall Caine, a novel false in its content and inartistic, 
which has been sold to the extent of a million copies, obtains, 
like Odol or Pears' Soap, a great notoriety not justified by 
its merits. And this great publicity causes an ever greater 
and greater number of people to read such books, and the 
fame of an insignificant, or often harmful, book grows and 
grows like a snowball, and in the heads of the great majority 
of men an ever greater and greater confusion of ideas forms, 
also like a snowball, involving complete incapacity to under- 
stand the qualities of literary productions. And therefore in 
proportion to the greater and greater diffusion of newspapers, 
periodicals, books, and printing in general, the level of the 
quality of what is printed falls lower and lower, and the great 
mass of the so-called educated public is ever more and more 
immersed in the most hopeless, self-satisfied, and therefore 
incurable, ignorance. 

[Within my own memory, during the last fifty years, this 
striking debasement of the taste and common sense of the 
reading public has occurred. One may trace this debasement 
in all branches of literature, but I will indicate only some 
notable instances best known to me. In Russian poetry, 
for instance, after Pushkin and Lermontov (Tyvitchev is gen- 
erally forgotten) poetic fame passes first to the very doubtful 



"DER BUTTNERBAUER" 385 

poets, Maykov, Polonski, and Fet, then to Nekrasov, who 
was quite destitute of the poetic gift, then to the artificial 
and prosaic versifier, Alexey Tolstoy, then to the monotonous 
and weak Nadson, then to the quite ungifted Apukhtin, and 
after that everything becomes confused and versifiers appear 
whose name is legion, who do not even know what poetry is, 
or the meaning of what they write, or why they write. 

Another astonishing example is that of the English prose 
writers. From the great Dickens we descend, first to George 
Eliot, then to Thackeray, from Thackeray to Trollope, and 
then already there begin the indifferent fabrications of Kipling, 
Hall Caine, Rider Haggard, and so forth. The same thing 
is yet more striking in American literature. After the great 
galaxy of Emerson, Thoreau, Lowell, Whittier and others, 
suddenly everything crumbles and there appear beautiful pub- 
lications with beautiful illustrations, but with stories and 
novels it is impossible to read because of their lack of any 
content. 

In our time the ignorance of the educated crowd has reached 
such a pass that all the really great thinkers, poets, and 
prose writers, both of ancient times and of the nineteenth 
century, are considered obsolete, and no longer satisfy the 
lofty and refined demands of the new men; it is all regarded 
with contempt or with a smile of condescension. The im- 
moral, coarse, inflated, disconnected babble of Nietzsche is 
recognised as the last word of the philosophy of our day, 
and the senseless artificial arrangements of words in various 
decadent poems united by measure and rhythm, is regarded 
as poetry of the highest order. In all the theatres pieces 
are given the meaning of which is unknown to anyone, even 
to the authors, and novels that have no content and no art- 
istic merit are printed and circulated by millions, under the 
guise of artistic productions, 



386 TOLSTOY ON ART 

"What shall I read to supplement my education?" asks a 
young man or girl who has finished his or her studies at the 
high-school. 

The same question is put by a man of the people who has 
learned to read and to understand what he reads, and is seek- 
ing true enlightenment. 

To answer such questions the naive attempts made to inter- 
rogate prominent men as to which they consider to be the best 
hundred books is of course insufficient. 

Nor is the matter helped by the classification existing in our 
European society, and tacitly accepted by all, which divides 
writers into first, second, and third class, and so on into 
those of genius, those who are very talented, and those simply 
good. Such a division, far from helping a true understanding 
of the excellences of literature, and the search for what is 
good amid the sea of what is bad, still more confuses this 
aim. To say nothing of the fact that this division into classes 
is often incorrect and maintained only because it was made 
long ago and is accepted by everybody, such a division is 
harmful, because writers acknowledged to be first-class have 
written some very bad things, and writers of the lowest class 
have produced some excellent things. So that a man who be- 
lieves in the division of writers into classes, and thinks every- 
thing by first-class writers to be admirable, and everything 
by writers of the lower class or those quite unknown, to be 
weak, will only become confused, and deprive himself of much 
that is useful and truly enlightening. 

Only real criticism can reply to that most important ques- 
tion of our day, put by the youth of the educated class who 
seeks education, and by the man of the people who seeks en- 
lightment not such criticism as now exists, which sets itself 
the task of praising such works as have obtained notoriety, 
and devising foggy philosophic-esthetic theories to justify 
them; and not criticism that makes it its task more or 



"DER BUTTNERBAUER" 387 

less wittily to ridicule bad works or works proceeding from a 
different camp; still less such criticism as has functioned and 
still functions in Russia, and sets itself the aim of deducing 
the direction of the movement of our whole society from some 
types depicted by certain writers, or in general of finding 
opportunities to express particular economic and political 
opinions under guise of discussing literary productions. 

To that enormously important question, "What, of all that 
has been written, is one to read?" only real criticism can fur- 
nish a reply: criticism which, as Matthew Arnold says, sets 
itself the task of bringing to the front and pointing out to 
people all that is best both in former and in contemporary 
writers. 

On whether such disinterested criticism, which understands 
and loves art and is independent of any party, makes its ap- 
pearance or not, and on whether its authority becomes suf- 
ficiently established for it to be stronger than mercenary ad- 
vertisement, depends, in my opinion, the decision of the ques- 
tion whether the last rays of enlightenment are to perish in 
our so-called educated European society without having 
reached the masses of the people, or whether they will revive, 
as they did in the Middle Ages, and reach the great mass of 
the people who are now without any enlightenment. 

The fact that the mass of the public do not know of this 
admirable novel of Polenz's any more than they do of many 
other admirable works which are drowned in the sea of printed 
rubbish, while senseless, insignificant, and even simply nasty, 
literary productions are discussed from every aspect, invaria- 
bly praised, and sold by millions of copies, has evoked in me 
these thoughts, and I avail myself of the opportunity, which 
will hardly present itself to me again, of expressing them, 
though it be but briefly. 

1902, 



PART XVI 

AN AFTERWORD, BY TOLSTOY, TO CHEKHOV'S 
STORY, "DARLING" 

There is profound meaning in the story in the Book of 
Numbers, which tells how Balak, king of the Moabites, sent 
for Balaam to curse the people of Israel who had come to 
his borders. Balak promised Balaam many gifts for his 
service; and Balaam, being tempted, went to Balak, but was 
stopped on the way by an angel who was seen by his ass but 
whom Balaam did not see. In spite of this Balaam went 
on to Balak and went with him up a mountain, where an altar 
had been prepared with calves and lambs slaughtered in 
readiness for the imprecation. Balak waited for the curse 
to be pronounced, but instead of cursing them Balaam 
blessed the people of Israel. 

Ch. XXIII, v. 11. "And Balak said unto Balaam, What 
hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, 
and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether. 

v. 12. "And he answered and said, Must I not take heed 
to speak that which the Lord putteth in my mouth? 

v. 13. "And Balak said unto him, Come with me unto an- 
other place . . . and curse me them from thence." 

And he took him to another place, where also altars had 
been prepared. 

But again Balaam, instead of cursing, blessed them. 

And so it was a third time. 

Chapter XXIV, v. 10. "And Balak's anger was kindled 
against Balaam, and he smote his hands together; and Balak 
said unto Balaam, I called thee to curse mine enemies, and 

388 



AN AFTERWORD TO "DARLING" 389 

thou hast blessed them these three times. Therefore now flee 
thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great hon- 
our; and, lo, the Lord hath kept thee back from honour." 
And so Balaam departed without receiving the gifts, because 
instead of cursing Balak's enemies he had blessed them. 

What happened to Balaam very often happens to true 
poets and artists. Tempted by Balak's promises of popu- 
larity, or by false views suggested to them, the poet does not 
even see the angel that bars his way whom the ass sees, and 
he wishes to curse but yet he blesses. 

This is just what happened with the true poet and artist 
Chekhov when he wrote his charming story, Darling. 

The author evidently wanted to laugh at this pitiful crea- 
ture as he judged her with his intellect, not with his heart 
this "Darling," who, after sharing Kukin's troubles about his 
theatre, and then immersing herself in the interests of the tim- 
ber business, under the influence of the veterinary surgeon con- 
siders the struggle against bovine tuberculosis to be the most 
important matter in the world, and is finally absorbed in 
questions of grammar and the interests of the little school- 
boy in the big cap. Kukin's name is ridiculous, and so even 
is his illness and the telegram announcing his death. The 
timber-dealer with his sedateness is ridiculous, and the vet- 
erinary surgeon and the boy are ridiculous; but the soul of 
"Darling," with her capacity to devote herself with her whole 
being to the one she loves, is not ridiculous but wonderful 
and holy. 

I think that in the mind though not in the heart of the 
author when he wrote Darling, there was a dim idea of the 
new woman, of her equality of rights with man; of woman, 
developed, learned, working independently, as well as man 
if not better, for the benefit of society ; of the woman who has 
raised and insists upon the woman question; and in be- 
ginning to write Darling he wanted to show what woman 



390 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ought not to be. The Balak of public opinon invited 
Chekhov to curse the weak, submissive, undeveloped woman, 
devoted to man, and Chekhov ascended the mountain, and the 
calves and sheep were laid upon the altar, but when he began 
to speak, the author blessed what he had meant to curse. I, 
at any rate, despite the wonderful gay humour of the whole 
work, cannot read without tears some passages of this beauti- 
ful story. I am touched by the description of the complete 
devotion with which she loved Kukin and all that he cared 
for, and also the timber-dealer, and also the veterinary 
surgeon, and yet more by her sufferings when she was left 
alone and had no one to love, and by the account of how 
finally with all the strength of her womanly and motherly 
feeling (which she had never had the opportunity to expend 
on children of her own) she devoted her unbounded love to the 
future man, the school-boy in the big cap. 

The author makes her love the ridiculous Kukin, the in- 
significant timber-dealer, and the unpleasant veterinary 
surgeon; but love is not less sacred whether its object be a 
Kukin or a Spinoza, a Pascal or a Schiller, whether its object 
changes as rapidly as in the case of Darling, or remains the 
same for a whole lifetime. 

I happened long ago to read in the Novoe Vremya an ex- 
cellent feuilleton by M. Ata about women. In this feuilleton 
the author expressed a remarkably wise and profound 
thought. "Women," he says, "try to prove to us that they 
can do everything we men can do. I not only do not dis- 
pute this, but am ready to agree that women can do all that 
men do and perhaps even do it better, but the trouble 
is that men cannot do anything even approximately approach- 
ing what women can accomplish." 

Yes, that is certainly so, and it is true not only of the 
bearing, nursing, and early education of children, but men 
cannot do what is loftiest, best, and brings man nearest to 



AN AFTERWORD TO "DARLING" 391 

God the work of loving, of complete devotion to the beloved, 
which has been so well and naturally done, and is done, and 
will be done, by good women. What would become of the 
world, what would become of us men, if women had not that 
faculty and did not exercise it? Without women doctors, 
women telegraphists, women lawyers and scientists and au- 
thoresses, we might get on, but without mothers, helpers, 
friends, comforters, who love in man all that is best in him 
without such women it would be hard to live in the world. 
Christ would be without Mary or Magdalene, Francis of 
Assisi would have lacked Claire, there would have been no 
wives of the Decembrists in their exile, nor would the Douk- 
hobors have had their wives, who did not restrain their hus- 
bands but supported them in their martyrdom for truth 
There would not have been those thousands and thousands of 
unknown women the very best (as the unknown generally 
are) comforters of the drunken, the weak, and the disso- 
lute, who more than anyone else need the consolation of love. 
In that love, whether directed to Kukin or to Christ, is the 
chief, grand strength of women, irreplaceable by anything 
else. 

What a wonderful misconception is the whole so-called 
woman's question, which has obsessed (as is natural with 
every empty idea) the majority of women and even of men! 

" Woman wants to improve herself!" What can be more 
legitimate or more just than that? 

But the business of a woman by her very vocation is dif- 
ferent from a man's. And therefore the ideal of perfection 
for a woman cannot be the same as the ideal for a man. Let 
us grant that we do not know in what that ideal consists, but 
in any case it is certainly not the ideal of perfection for a 
man. And yet to the attainment of that masculine ideal all 
the absurd and unwholesome activity of the fashionable wom- 
an's movement, which now so confuses women, is directed. 



392 TOLSTOY ON ART 

I am afraid that Chekhov when writing Darling was under 
the influence of this misunderstanding. 

He, like Balaam, intended to curse, but the God of poetry 
forbade him to do so and commanded him to bless, and he 
blessed, and involuntarily clothed that sweet creature in such 
a wonderful radiance that she will alwavs remain a type of 
what woman can be in order to be happy herself and to cause 
the happiness of those with whom her fate is united. 

This story is so excellent because its effect was uninten- 
tional. 

I learned to ride a bicycle in the great Moscow riding- 
school, in which army-divisions are reviewed. At the other 
end of the riding-school a lady was learning to ride. I 
thought of how to avoid incommoding that lady and began 
looking at her. And, looking at her, I began involuntarily 
to draw nearer and nearer to her, and although she, noticing 
the danger, hastened to get out of the way, I rode against her 
and upset her, that is to say, I did exactly the opposite of 
what I wished to do, simply because I had concentrated my 
attention upon her. 

The same thing has happened with Chekhov, but in an in- 
verse sense: he wanted to knock down "Darling," and direct- 
ing the close attention of a poet upon her, he has exalted her. 



PART XVII 
SHAKESPEARE AND THE DRAMA 



An article by Ernest Howard Crosby 1 on Shakespeare's at- 
titude towards the people has suggested to me the idea of ex- 
pressing the opinion I formed long ago about Shakespeare's 
works, an opinion quite contrary to that established through- 
out the European world. Recalling the struggle with doubts, 
the pretences, and the efforts to attune myself to Shakespeare, 
that I went through owing to my complete disagreement with 
the general adulation, and supposing that many people have 
experienced and are experiencing the same perplexity, I 
think it may be of some use definitely and frankly to express 
this disagreement of mine with the opinion held by the 
majority, especially as the conclusions I came to on examining 
the causes of my disagreement are, it seems to me, not devoid 
of interest and significance. 

My disagreement with the established opinion about 
Shakespeare is not the result of a casual mood or of a light- 
hearted attitude towards the subject, but it is the result of re- 
peated and strenuous efforts, extending over many years, to 
harmonise my views with the opinions about Shakespeare 
accepted throughout the whole educated Christian world. 

1 E. H. Crosby was for some time a member of the New York State Legislature ; 
subsequently he went to Egypt as a judge in the Mixed Tribunals. While there 
he began reading the works of Tolstoy, which had a great influence upon him. 
He visited Tolstoy, and afterwards co-operated with him in various ways. In 
a remarkable essay on "Shakespeare and the Working Classes" E. H. Crosby 
drew attention to the consistently anti-democratic tendency of that poet's plays. 
It is to this essay that Tolstoy here refers. A. M. 

393 



394 TOLSTOY ON ART 

I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read 
Shakespeare. I had expected to receive a great esthetic pleas- 
ure, but on reading, one after another, the works regarded 
as his best, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Mac- 
beth, not only did I not experience pleasure but I felt an in- 
superable repulsion and tedium, and a doubt whether I lacked 
sense, since I considered works insignificant and simply bad, 
which are regarded as the summit of perfection by the 
whole educated world; or whether the importance that edu- 
cated world attributed to Shakespeare's works lacks sense. 
My perplexity was increased by the fact that I have always 
keenly felt the beauties of poetry in all its forms: why then 
did Shakespeare's works, recognised by the whole world as 
works of artistic genius, not only fail to please me, but even 
seem detestable? I long distrusted my judgment, and to check 
my conclusions, during fifty years I repeatedly set to work to 
read Shakespeare in all possible forms in Russian, in 
English, and in German in Schlegel's translation, as I was 
advised to. I read the tragedies, comedies, and historical 
plays, several times over, and I invariably experienced the 
same feelings repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment. 
Now, before writing this article, as an old man of 75, 1 wish- 
ing once more to check my conclusions, I have again read the 
whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the 
Henrys, Troilus and Cressida, The Tempest, and Cymbeline, 
etc., and have experienced the same feeling still more strongly, 
no longer with perplexity but with a firm indubitable convic- 
tion that the undisputed fame Shakespeare enjoys as a great 
genius, which makes writers of our time imitate him and 
readers and spectators, distorting their esthetic and ethical 
sense, seek non-existent qualities in him, is a great evil as 
every falsehood is. 

1 Tolstoy was born in 1828. This essay appeared in 1906, so that Tolstoy 
began his re-reading of Shakespeare three years before he published the article 



ON SHAKESPEARE 395 

Although I know that the majority of people have such faith 
in Shakespeare's greatness that on reading this opinion of 
mine they will not even admit the possibility of its being cor- 
rect, and will not pay any attention to it, I shall nevertheless 
try as best I can to show why I think Shakespeare cannot be 
admitted to be either a great writer of genius, or even an 
average one. 

For this purpose I will take one of the most admired of 
Shakespeare's dramas King Lear, in enthusiastic praise of 
which most of the critics agree. 

"The tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among the 
dramas of Shakespeare," says Dr. Johnson. "There is per- 
haps no play which keeps the attention so strongly fixed, 
which so much agitates our passions and interests our 
curiosity." 

"We wish that we could pass this play over and say noth- 
ing about it," says Hazlitt. "All that we can say must fall 
far short of the subject, or even of what we ourselves conceive 
of it. To attempt to give a description of the play itself 
or of its effects upon the mind is mere impertinence; yet we 
must say something. It is then the best of Shakespeare's 
plays, for it is the one in which he was most in earnest." 

"If the originality of invention did not so much stamp al- 
most every play of Shakespeare," says Hallam, "that to name 
one as the most original seems a disparagement to others, we 
might say that this great prerogative of genius was exercised 
above all in Lear. It diverges more from the model of reg- 
ular tragedy than Macbeth or Othello, or even more than 
Hamlet, but the fable is better constructed than in the last 
of these and it displays full as much of the almost super- 
human inspiration of the poet as the other two." 

"King Lear may be recognised as the perfect model of the 
dramatic art of the whole world," says Shelley. 

"I am not minded to say much of Shakespeare's Arthur"; 



396 TOLSTOY ON ART 

says Swinburne. "There are one or two figures in the world 
of his work of which there are no words that would be fit or 
good to say. Another of these is Cordelia. The place they 
have in our lives and thoughts is not one for talk. The niche 
set apart for them to inhabit in our secret hearts is not pene- 
trable by the lights and noises of common day. There are 
chapels in the cathedral of man's highest art, as in that of 
his inmost life, not made to be set open to the eyes and feet 
of the world. Love and Death and Memory keep charge for 
us in silence of some beloved names. It is the crowning glory 
of genius, the final miracle and transcendant gift of poetry 
that it can add to the number of these and engrave on the 
very heart of our remembrance fresh names and memories of 
its own creation." 

"Lear, c'est l'occasion de Cordelia," says Victor Hugo. 
"La maternite de la fille sur le pere; sujet profonde; la 
maternite venerable entre toutes, si admirablement traduite 
par la legend de cette romaine, nourrice, au fond d'un cachot, 
de son pere veillard. La jeune mammelle pres de la barbe 
blanche, il n'est point de spectacle plus sacre. Cette mam- 
melle filiale c'est Cordelia. 

"Une fois cette figure revee et trouvee Shakespeare a cree 
son drame. . . . Shakespeare, portant Cordelia dans sa pen- 
see, a cree cette tragedie comme un dieu, qui ayant une aurore 
a placer, ferait tout expres un monde pour l'y mettre." 1 

"In Lear Shakespeare's vision sounded the abyss of horror 
to its very depths, and his spirit showed neither fear, nor 
giddiness, nor faintness at the sight," says Brandes. "On the 

1 "Lear is the occasion for Cordelia. The daughter's maternity towards the 
father; profound subject; maternity venerable among all other maternities, so 
admirably rendered by the legend of that Roman girl, nurse, in the depths of 
a prison, of her old father. The young breast near the white beard, there is 
no spectacle more holy. That filial breast is Cordelia. 

"Once this figure was dreamed and found Shakespeare created his drama . . . 
Shakespeare carrying Cordelia in his thoughts, created that tragedy as a god, 
who having an aurora to place makes a world expressly for it." 



ON SHAKESPEARE 397 

threshold of this work, a feeling of awe comes over one, as 
on the threshold of the Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling- 
frescoes by Michael Angelo, only that the suffering here is far 
more intense, the wail wilder, the harmonies of beauty more 
definitely shattered by the discords of despair." 

Such are the judgments of the critics on this drama, and 
therefore, I think I am justified in choosing it as an example 
of Shakespeare's best plays. 

I will try as impartially as possible to give the contents 
of the play, and then show why it is not the height of per- 
fection, as it is said to be by the learned critics, but is some- 
thing quite different. 

II 

The tragedy of Lear begins with a scene in which two cour- 
tiers, Kent and Gloucester, are talking. Kent, pointing to a 
young man who is present, asks Gloucester whether that is his 
son. Gloucester says that he has often blushed to acknowl- 
edge the young man as his son, but has now ceased to do so. 
Kent says: "I cannot conceive you." Then Gloucester, in 
the presence of his son, says: "Sir, this young fellow's mother 
could; whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had, indeed, 
sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her 
bed. ..." He goes on to say that he had another son who 
was legitimate, but "though this knave came somewhat saucily 
before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair, there was good 
sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged." 

Such is the introduction. Not to speak of the vulgarity of 
these words of Gloucester, they are also out of place in the 
mouth of a man whom it is intended to represent as a noble 
character. It is impossible to agree with the opinion of some 
critics that these words are put into Gloucester's mouth to in- 
dicate the contempt for illegitimacy from which Edmund suf- 
fered. Were that so, it would in the first place have been nee- 



398 TOLSTOY ON ART 

essary to make the father express the contempt felt by people 
in general, and secondly Edmund, in his monologue about 
the injustice of those who despise him for his birth, should 
have referred to his father's words. But this is not done, and 
therefore these words of Gloucester's at the very beginning of 
the piece, were merely for the purpose of informing the public 
in an amusing way of the fact that Gloucester has a legitimate 
and an illegitimate son. 

After this trumpets are blown, King Lear enters with his 
daughters and sons-in-law and make a speech about being 
aged and wishing to stand aside from affairs and divide his 
kingdom between his daughters. In order to know how much 
he should give to each daughter, he announces that to the 
daughter who tells him she loves him most he will give most. 
The eldest daughter, Goneril, says that there are no words to 
express her love, that she loves him "dearer than eyesight, 
space, and liberty," and she loves him so much that it "makes 
her breath poor." King Lear immediately allots on the map to 
this daughter her share, with fields, woods, rivers and mead- 
ows, and puts the same question to his second daughter. The 
second daughter, Regan, says that her sister has correctly ex- 
pressed her own feelings, but insufficiently. She, Regan, 
loves her father so that everything is abhorrent to her except 
his love. The king rewards this daughter also, and asks his 
youngest, favourite daughter, in whom, according to his 
expression, "the wine of France and milk of Burgundy strive 
to be interess'd" that is, who is courted by the King of 
France and the Duke of Burgundy asks Cordelia how she 
loves him. Cordelia, who personifies all the virtues as the 
two elder sisters personify all the vices, says quite inap- 
propriately, as if on purpose to vex her father, that though 
she loves and honours him and is grateful to him, yet, if she 
marries, her love will not all belong to him, but she will love 
her husband also. 



ON SHAKESPEARE 399 

On hearing these words the king is beside himself, and im- 
mediately curses his favourite daughter with most terrible and 
strange maledictions, saying, for instance, that he will love a 
man who eats his own children as much as he now loves her 
who was once his daughter. 

The barbarous Scythian, 
Or he that makes his generation messes 
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom 
Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and reliev'd, 
As thou, my sometime daughter. 

The courtier, Kent, takes Cordelia's part, and, wishing to 
bring the king to reason, upbraids him with his injustice and 
speaks reasonably about the evil of flattery. Lear, without 
attending to Kent, banishes him under threat of death, and 
calling to him Cordelia's two suitors, the King of France and 
the Duke of Burgundy, proposes to each in turn to take Cor- 
delia without a dowry. The Duke of Burgundy says plainly 
that he will not take Cordelia without a dowry, but the 
King of France takes her without dowry, and leads her away. 
After this the elder sisters, there and then conversing with one 
another, prepare to offend their father who had endowed 
them. So ends the first scene. 

Not to mention the inflated, characterless style in which 
King Lear like all Shakespeare's kings talks, the reader or 
spectator cannot believe that a king, however old and stupid, 
could believe the words of the wicked daughters with whom 
he had lived all their lives, and not trust his favourite daugh- 
ter, but curse and banish her; therefore the reader or specta- 
tor cannot share the feeling of the persons who take part in 
this unnatural scene. 

Scene II begins with Edmund, Gloucester's illegitimate 
son, soliloquising on the injustice of men who concede rights 
and respect to a legitimate son but deny them to an illegiti- 



400 TOLSTOY ON ART 

mate son, and he determines to ruin Edgar and usurp his 
place. For this purpose he forges a letter to himself, as from 
Edgar, in which the latter is made to appear to wish to kill 
his father. Having waited till Gloucester appears, Edmund, 
as if against his own desire, shows him this letter, and the 
father immediately believes that his son Edgar, whom he 
tenderly loves, wishes to kill him. The father goes away, 
Edgar enters, and Edmund suggests to him that his father for 
some reason wishes to kill him. Edgar also at once believes 
him, and flees from his father. 

The relations between Gloucester and his two sons and the 
feelings of these characters, are as unnatural as Lear's rela- 
tion to his daughters, if not more so; and therefore it is even 
more difficult for the 'spectator to put himself into the mental 
condition of Gloucester and his sons and to sympathise with 
them, than it was in regard to Lear and his daughters. 

In Scene IV the banished Kent, disguised, so that Lear does 
not recognise him, presents himself to the king who is now 
staying with Goneril. Lear asks who he is, to which Kent, 
one does not know why, replies in a jocular tone quite inap- 
propriate to his position: "A very honest-hearted fellow and 
as poor as the King." "If thou be'st as poor for a subject as 
he's for a King, thou art poor enough," replies Lear. "How 
old art thou?" "Not so young, sir, to love a woman for sing- 
ing, nor so old as to dote on her for anything," to which the 
King replies that if he likes him not worse after dinner, he 
will let him remain in his service. 

This talk fits in neither with Lear's position nor with 
Kent's relation to him, and is evidently put into their mouths 
only because the author thought it witty and amusing. 

Goneril's steward appears and is rude to Lear, for which 
Kent trips him up. The King, who still does not recognise 
Kent, gives him money for this, and takes him into his service. 
After this the fool appears, and a talk begins between the 



ON SHAKESPEARE 401 

fool and the King, quite out of accord with the situation, 
leading to nothing, prolonged, and intended to be amusing. 
Thus for instance the fool says, "Give me an egg, and I'll give 
thee two crowns." The King asks what crowns they shall be. 
"Why, after I have cut the egg i'the middle and eat up the 
meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou clovest thy 
crown i'the middle, and gavest away both parts, thou borest 
thine ass on thy back o'er the dirt ; thou hadst little wit in thy 
bald crown when thou gavest thy golden one away. If I 
speak like myself in this, let him be whipped that first finds 
it so." 

In this manner prolonged conversations go on, producing 
in the spectator or reader a sense of wearisome discomfort 
such as one experiences when listening to dull jokes. 

This conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Goneril. 
She demands that her father should diminish his retinue: in- 
stead of a hundred courtiers he should be satisfied with fifty. 
On hearing this proposal Lear is seized with terrible, un- 
natural rage, and asks: 

Does any here know me? This is not Lear! 

Does Lear walk thus ? Speak thus ? Where are his eyes ? 

Either his notion weakens, his discernings 

Are lethargied. Ha! Waking? 'tis not so, 

Who is it that can tell me who I am? 

and so forth. 

Meanwhile the fool unceasingly interpolates his humour- 
less jokes. Goneril's husband appears and wishes to appease 
Lear, but Lear curses Goneril, invoking sterility upon her, 
or the birth of such a child as would repay with ridicule and 
contempt her maternal cares, and would thereby show her all 
the horror and suffering caused by a child's ingratitude. 

These words, which express a genuine feeling, might have 
been touching had only this been said, but they are lost 



402 TOLSTOY ON ART 

among long high-flown speeches Lear continually utters quite 
inappropriately. Now he calls down blasts and fogs on 
his daughter's head, now desires that curses should "pierce 
every sense about thee," or addressing his own eyes, says that 
if they weep he will pluck them out and cast them, with the 
waters that they lose, "to temper clay." 

After this, Lear sends Kent, whom he still does not recog- 
nise, to his other daughter, and notwithstanding the despair 
he has just expressed he talks with the fool and incites him 
to jests. The jests continue to be mirthless, and besides the 
unpleasant feeling akin to shame that one feels at unsuccess- 
ful witticisms, they are so long-drawn-out as to be wearisome. 
So for instance the fool asks the King, " Canst thou tell why 
one's nose stands i' the middle of one's face?" Lear says he 
does not know. 

"Why, to keep one's eyes of either side one's nose: that 
what a man cannot smell out he may spy into." 

"Canst tell how an oyster makes his shell?" the fool asks. 

"No." 

"Nor I neither; but I can tell why a snail has a house." 

"Why?" 

"Why, to put his head in; not to give it away to his daugh- 
ters, and leave his horns without a case." 

"Be my horses ready?" asks Lear. 

"Thy asses are gone about 'em. The reason why the seven 
stars are no more than seven is a pretty reason." 

"Because they are not eight?" says Lear. 

"Yes, indeed; thou wouldst make a good fool," says the 
fool, and so forth. 

After this long scene a gentleman comes and announces that 
the horses are ready. The fool says : 

She that's a maid now and laughs at my departure, 
Shall not be a maid long, unless things be cut shorter, 

and goes off. 



ON SHAKESPEARE 403 

Scene I of Act II begins with the villain Edmund per- 
suading his brother, when his father enters, to pretend that 
they are fighting with their swords. Edgar agrees, though it 
is quite incomprehensible why he should do so. The father 
finds them fighting. Edgar runs away and Edmund scratches 
his own arm to draw blood, and persuades his father that 
Edgar was using charms to kill his father and had wanted 
Edmund to help him, but that he had refused to do so and 
Edgar had then thrown himself upon him and wounded him 
in the arm. Gloucester believes everything, curses Edgar, 
and transfers all the rights of his elder and legitimate son to 
the illegitimate Edmund. The Duke of Cornwall, hearing 
of this, also rewards Edmund. 

In Scene II before Gloucester's castle, Lear's new servant 
Kent, still unrecognised by Lear, begins without any reason 
to abuse Oswald (Goneril's steward), calling him "a knave, a 
rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beg- 
garly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking 
knave; . . . the son and heir of a mongrel bitch," and so on. 
Then drawing his sword he demands that Oswald should 
fight him, saying that he will make of him a "sop o' the moon- 
shine," words no commentator has been able to explain, and 
when he is stopped, he continues to give vent to the strangest 
abuse, saying, for instance, that he, Oswald, has been made 
by a tailor, because "a stone-cutter, or a painter, could not 
have made him so ill, though they had been but two hours at 
the trade." He also says that, if he is allowed, he will tread 
this unbolted villain into mortar, and daub the wall of a privy 
with him. 

And in this way Kent, whom nobody recognises, though 
both the king and the Duke of Cornwall, as well as Gloucester 
who is present, should know him well, continues to brawl, in 
the character of a new servant of Lear's, until he- is seized 
and put in the stocks. 



404 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Scene III takes place on a heath. Edgar, flying from his 
father's pursuit, hides himself in a tree, and he tells the 
audience what kinds of lunatics there are, beggars who go 
about naked, thrust pins and wooden pricks into their bodies, 
and scream with wild voices and enforce charity, and he 
says that he intends to play the part of such a lunatic in order 
to escape from the pursuit. Having told the audience this 
he goes off. 

Scene IV is again before Gloucester's castle. Lear and 
the fool enter. Lear sees Kent in the stocks and, still not rec- 
ognising him, is inflamed with anger against those who have 
dared so to treat his messenger, and he calls for the Duke and 
Regan. The fool goes on with his queer sayings. Lear 
with difficulty restrains his anger. The Duke and Regan en- 
ter. Lear complains of Goneril, but Regan justifies her 
sister. Lear curses Goneril and, when Regan tells him he 
had better go back to her sister, he is indignant and says: 
"Ask her forgiveness?" and goes on his knees, showing how 
improper it would be for him abjectly to beg food and clothing 
as charity from his own daughter, and he curses Goneril with 
the most terrible curses, and asks who has dared to put his 
messenger in the stocks. Before Regan can answer Goneril 
arrives. Lear becomes yet more angry and again curses 
Goneril, and when he is told that the Duke had ordered the 
stocks he says nothing, for at this moment Regan tells him 
that she cannot receive him now and that he had better return 
with Goneril, and in a month's time she will herself receive 
him but not with a hundred but with only fifty followers. 
Lear again curses Goneril and does not want to go with her, 
still hoping that Regan will receive him with all his hundred 
followers, but Regan says she will only accept him with 
twenty-five, and then Lear decides to go back with Goneril 
who allows fifty. Then, when Goneril says that even twenty- 
five are too many, Lear utters a long discourse about the 



ON SHAKESPEARE 405 

superfluous and sufficient being conditional conceptions, and 
says that if a man is allowed only as much as is necessary he 
is no different from a beast, And here Lear, or rather the ac- 
tor who plays Lear, addresses himself to a finely-dressed 
woman in the audience, and says that she too does not need 
her finery, which does not keep her warm. After this he be- 
comes madly angry, says that he will do something terrible 
to be revenged upon his daughters but will not weep, and so he 
departs. The noise of a storm that is commencing is heard. 

Such is the second Act, full of unnatural occurrences, and 
still more unnatural speeches not flowing from the speaker's 
circumstances, and finishing with the scene between Lear and 
his daughters which might be powerful if it were not over- 
loaded with speeches most naively absurd and unnatural and 
quite inappropriate moreover, put in Lear's mouth. Ex- 
ceedingly touching would be Lear's vacillations between 
pride, anger, and hope of concessions from his daughters, 
were they not spoilt by these verbose absurdities which he 
utters about being ready to divorce Regan's dead mother 
should Regan not be glad to see him, or about evoking ''fen- 
sucked fogs" to infect his daughter, or about the heavens being 
obliged to protect old men as they themselves are old, and 
much else. 

Act III begins with thunder, lightning, and storm a spe- 
cial kind of storm such as there never was before, as one of 
the characters in the play says. On the heath a gentleman 
tells Kent that Lear, expelled by his daughters from their 
houses, is wandering about the heath alone, tearing his hair 
and throwing it to the winds, and that only the fool is with 
him. Kent tells the gentleman that the Dukes have quar- 
relled, and that a French army has landed at Dover, and hav- 
ing communicated this, he despatches the gentleman to Dover 
to meet Cordelia. 

Scene II of Act III also takes place on the heath. Lear 



406 TOLSTOY ON ART 

walks about the heath and utters words intended to express 
despair: he wishes the winds to blow so hard that they (the 
winds) should crack their cheeks, and that the rain should 
drench everything, and that the lightning should singe his 
white head and thunder strike the earth flat and destroy all 
the germs "that make ingrateful man ! " The fool keeps utter- 
ing yet more senseless words. Kent enters. Lear says that, 
for some reason, in this storm all criminals shall be discov- 
ered and exposed. Kent, still not recognised by Lear, per- 
suades Lear to take shelter in a hovel. The fool thereupon 
utters a prophecy quite unrelated to the situation, and they all 
go off. 

Scene III is again transferred to Gloucester's castle. 
Gloucester tells Edmund that the French king has already 
landed with an army and intends to help Lear. On learning 
this, Edmund decides to accuse his father of treason in order 
to supplant him. 

Scene IV is again on the heath in front of the hoYgL Kent 
invites Lear to enter the hovel, but Lear replies that he has 
no reason to shelter himself from the storm, that he does not 
feel it as the tempest in his mind, aroused by his daughter's 
ingratitude, overpowers all else. This true feeling, if ex- 
pressed in simple words, might evoke sympathy, but amid 
his inflated and incessant ravings it is hard to notice it and 
it loses its significance. 

The hovel to which Lear is led turns out to be the same that 
Edgar has entered disguised as a madman, that is to say, 
without clothes. Edgar comes out of the hovel and, though 
they all know him, nobody recognises him any more than 
they recognise Kent, and Edgar, Lear, and the fool, begin to 
talk nonsense which continues with intervals for six pages. 
In the midst of this scene Gloucester enters (who also fails 
to recognise either Kent or his own son Edgar), and tells 
them how his son Edgar wished to kill him. 



ON SHAKESPEARE 407 

This scene is again interrupted by one in Gloucester's cas- 
tle, during which Edmund betrays his father and the Duke 
declares he will be revenged on Gloucester. The scene again 
shifts to Lear. Kent, Edgar, Gloucester, Lear, and the fool, 
are in a farm-house and are talking. Edgar says: "Fra- 
teretto calls me and tells me, Nero is an angler in the lake 
of darkness. . . ." The fool says: "Nuncle, tell me, whether 
a madman be a gentleman, or a yeoman?" Lear, who is out 
of his mind, says that a madman is a king. The fool says: 
"No, he's a yeoman, that has a gentleman to his son; for he's 
a mad yeoman, that sees his son a gentleman before him." 
Lear cries out: "To have a thousand with red burning spits 
come hissing in upon them." And Edgar shrieks that the 
foul fiend bites his back. Then the fool utters an adage that 
one cannot trust "the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a 
boy's love, or a whore's oath." Then Lear imagines that he 
is trying his daughters. "Most learned justicer," says he ad- 
dressing the naked Edgar. "Thou, sapient sir, sit here. 
Now, you she foxes!" To this Edgar says: 

Look, where he stands and glares ! 
Wantonest thou eyes at trial, madam? 
Come o'er the bourn, Bessy, to me! 

and the fool sings: 

Her boat hath a leak, 

And she must not speak 

Why she dares not come over to thee. 

Edgar again says something, and Kent begs Lear to lie 
down, but Lear continues his imaginary trial. 

Bring in the evidence. 
Thou robed man of justice, take thy place; (to Edgar) 
And thou, his yoke-fellow of equity, (to the fool) 



408 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Bench by his side. You are of the commission, (to Kent) 
Sit you too. 

"Pur! the cat is grey," cries Edgar. 

"Arraign her first; 't is Goneril," says Lear. "I here take 
my oath before this honourable assembly, she kicked the 
poor King her father." 

Fool: Come hither, mistress. Is your name Goneril? (addressing 

a joint-stool) 
Lear: And here's another. . . . Stop her there! 

Arms, arms, sword, fire! Corruption in the place! 

False justicer, why hast thou let her 'scape? 

and so on. 

This raving ends by Lear falling asleep, and Gloucester 
persuading Kent, still without recognising him, to take the 
King to Dover. Kent and the fool carry Lear off. 

The scene changes to Gloucester's castle. Gloucester him- 
self is accused of treason, and is brought in and bound. The 
Duke of Cornwall tears out one of his eyes and stamps 
on it. Regan says that one eye is still whole and that this 
healthy eye is laughing at the other eye, and urges the Duke 
to crush it too. The Duke wishes to do so, but for some 
reason one of the servants suddenly takes Gloucester's part 
and wounds the Duke. Regan kills the servant. The 
servant dies and tells Gloucester that he has still one eye to 
see that the evil-doer is punished. The Duke says: "Lest 
it see more, prevent it: out, vile jelly!" and tears out Glou- 
cester's other eye and throws it on the floor. Here Regan 
mentions that Edmund has denounced his father, and 
Gloucester suddenly understands that he has been deceived 
and that Edgar did not wish to kill him. 

This ends the third Act. Act IV is again in the open 
country. Edgar, still in the guise of a maniac, talks in arti- 
ficial language about the perversities of fate and the advan- 



ON SHAKESPEARE 409 

tages of a humble lot. Then, curiously enough, to the very 
spot on the open heath where he is comes his father, blind 
Gloucester, led by an old man, and he too talks about the 
perversities of fate in that curious Shakespearean language 
the chief peculiarity of which is that the thoughts arise either 
from the sound of the words, or by contrast. He tells the old 
man who leads him to leave him. The old man says that 
without eyes one cannot go alone, because one cannot see the 
way. Gloucester says: 

"I have no way, and therefore want no eyes!' 
And he argues that he stumbled when he saw and that our 
defects often save us. 

"Ah! dear son Edgar," adds he, 

The food of thy abused father's wrath. 
Might I but live to see thee in my touch, 
I'd say I had eyes again! 

Edgar, naked, in the character of a lunatic, hears this, but 
does not disclose himself; he takes the place of the old man 
who had acted as guide, and talks with his father, who does 
not recognise his voice and believes him to be a madman. 
Gloucester takes the opportunity to utter a witticism about 
"when madmen lead the blind," and insists on driving away 
the old man, obviously not from motives which might be 
natural to him at that moment, but merely, when left alone 
with Edgar, to enact an imaginary leap over the cliff. Edgar, 
though he has only just seen his blinded father and learned 
that he repents of having driven him away, utters quite un- 
necessary sayings, which Shakespeare might know, having 
read them in Harsnet's book, 1 but which Edgar had no means 
of becoming acquainted with, and which, above all, it is quite 

1 A Declaration of egregious popish impostures, etc.," by Dr. Samuel Harsnet, 
London 1603, which contains almost all that Edgar says in his feigned mad- 
ness. A. M. 



410 TOLSTOY ON ART 

unnatural for him to utter in his then condition. He says: 
"Five fiends have been in poor Tom at once: of lust, as 
Obidicut ; Hobbididence, prince of dumbness ; Mahu, of steal- 
ing; Modo, of murder; and Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and 
mowing, who since possesses chamber-maids and waiting- 
women." 

On hearing these words, Gloucester gives Edgar his purse 
saying : 

That I am wretched 
Makes thee the happier. Heavens, deal so still ! 
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man 
That braves your ordinance, that will not see 
Because he doth not feel, feel your power quickly; 
So distribution should undo excess, 
And each man have enough. 

Having uttered these strange words, the blind Gloucester 
demands that Edgar should lead him to a cliff that he does not 
himself know, but that hangs over the sea, and they depart. 

Scene II of Act IV takes place before the Duke of Albany's 
palace. Goneril is not only cruel but also dissolute. She 
despises her husband, and discloses her love to the villain. 
Edmund, who has obtained his father's title of Gloucester. 
Edmund goes away, and a conversation takes place between 
Goneril and her husband. The Duke of Albany, the only 
character who shows human feelings, has already grown dis- 
satisfied with his wife's treatment of her father and now defin- 
itely takes Lear's part, but he expresses himself in words which 
destroy one's belief in his feelings. He says that a bear 
would lick Lear's reverence, and that if the heavens do not 
send their visible spirits to tame these vile offences, humanity 
must prey on itself like monsters, and so forth. 

Goneril does not listen to him, and he then begins to de- 
nounce her. 



ON SHAKESPEARE 411 

He says: 

See thyself, devil! 
Proper deformity seems not in the fiend 
So horrid, as in woman. 

"O vain fool!" says Goneril. 

Thou changed and self-cover'd thing, for shame, 
Be-monster not thy feature. Were it my fitness 
To let these hands obey my blood, 
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear 
Thy flesh and bones: Howe'er thou art a fiend, 
A woman's shape doth shield thee, 

continues the Duke. 

After this a messenger enters and announces that the Duke 
of Cornwall, wounded by a servant while he was tearing out 
Gloucester's eyes, has died. Goneril is glad, but already an- 
ticipates with fear that Regan, being now a widow, will snatch 
Edmund from her. This ends the second scene. 

Scene III of Act IV represents the French camp. From a 
conversation between Kent and a gentleman, the reader or 
spectator learns that the King of France is not in the camp 
and that Cordelia has received a letter from Kent and is 
greatly grieved by what she learns about her father. The 
gentleman says that her face reminded one of sunshine and 
rain. 

Her smiles and tears 
Were like a better day : Those happy smilets, 
That play'd on her ripe lip, seem'd not to know 
What guests were in her eyes; which parted thence, 
As pearls from diamonds dropp'd, 

and so forth. The gentleman says that Cordelia desires to see 
her father, but Kent says that Lear is ashamed to see the 
daughter he has treated so badly. 



412 TOLSTOY ON ART 

In Scene IV Cordelia, talking with a physician, tells him 
that Lear has been seen, and that he is quite mad, wearing on 
his head a wreath of various weeds and roaming about, and 
that she has sent soldiers to find him, and she adds the wish 
that all secret medicinal virtues of the earth may spring to 
him in her tears, and so forth. 

She is told that the forces of the Dukes are approaching; 
but she is only concerned about her father, and goes off. 

In Scene V of Act IV, which is in Gloucester's castle, Re- 
gan talks with Oswald, Goneril's steward, who is carrying a 
letter from Goneril to Edmund, and tells him that she also 
loves Edmund and that as she is a widow it is better for her 
to marry him than for Goneril to do so, and she asks Oswald 
to persuade her sister of this. Moreover she tells him that 
it was very unwise to put out Gloucester's eyes and yet to let 
him live, and therefore she advises Oswald, if he meets Glou- 
cester, to kill him, and promises him a great reward if he does 
so. 

In Scene VI Gloucester again appears with his unrecog- 
nised son Edgar, who, now dressed as a peasant, is leading 
his father to the cliff. Gloucester is walking along on level 
ground, but Edgar assures him that they are with difficulty 
ascending a steep hill. Gloucester believes this. Edgar tells 
his father that the noise of the sea is audible; Gloucester be- 
lieves this also. Edgar stops on a level place and assures 
his father that he has ascended the cliff and that below him 
is a terrible abyss, and he leaves him alone. Gloucester, ad- 
dressing the gods, says that he shakes off his affliction as 
he could not bear it longer without condemning them, the 
gods, and having said this he leaps on the level ground and 
falls, imagining that he has jumped over the cliff. Edgar 
thereupon utters to himself a yet more confused phrase: 

And yet I know not how conceit may rob 
The treasury of life, when life itself 



ON SHAKESPEARE 413 

Yields to the theft; had he been where he thought, 
By this had thought been past, 

and he goes up to Gloucester pretending to be again a different 
man, and expresses astonishment at the latter not having been 
killed by his fall from such a dreadful height. Gloucester 
believes that he has fallen, and prepares to die, but he feels 
that he is alive, and begins to doubt having fallen. 
Then Edgar assures him that he really did jump from a 
terrible height, and says that the man who was with him at 
the top was a fiend, for he had eyes like two full moons, and a 
thousand noses, and wavy horns. 

Gloucester believes this, and is persuaded that his despair 
was caused by the devil, and therefore decides that he will 
despair no longer but will quietly await death. Just then 
Lear enters, for some reason all covered with wild flowers. 
He has gone mad, and utters speeches yet more meaningless 
than before. He talks about coining money, about a bow, 
calls for a clothier's yard, then he cries out that he sees a 
mouse which he wishes to entice with a piece of cheese, and 
then he suddenly asks the password of Edgar, who at once 
replies with the words, "Sweet Marjoram." Lear says, 
"Pass!" and the blind Gloucester, who did not recognise his 
son's or Kent's, recognises the King's voice. 

Then the King, after his disconnected utterances, suddenly 
begins to speak ironically about flatterers who said "ay and 
no" like the theologians and assured him that he could do 
everything, but when he got into a storm without shelter, he 
saw that this was not true ; and then he goes on to say that as 
all creatures are wanton, and as Gloucester's bastard son was 
kinder to his father than his own daughters had been to him 
(though Lear, according to the course of the play, could know 
nothing of Edmund's treatment of Gloucester), therefore let 
copulation thrive, especially as he, a King, lacks soldiers. 
And thereupon he addresses an imaginary, hypocritically 



414 TOLSTOY ON ART 

virtuous lady who acts the prude while at the same time, like 
an animal in heat, she is addicted to lust. All women 
"but to the girdle do the gods inherit. Beneath is all the 
fiend's ..." and saying this Lear screams and spits with 
horror. This monologue is evidently meant to be addressed 
by actor to audience, and probably produces an effect on the 
stage, but is quite uncalled for in the mouth of Lear as is 
his desire to wipe his hand because it "smells of mortality" 
when Gloucester wishes to kiss it. Then Gloucester's blind- 
ness is referred to, which gives an opportunity for a play of 
words on eyes and Cupid's blindness, and for Lear to say 
that Gloucester has "no eyes in your head, nor no money in 
your purse? Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a 
light." Then Lear declaims a monologue on the injustice of 
legal judgment, which is quite out of place in his mouth see- 
ing that he is insane. Then a gentleman enters with atten- 
dants sent by Cordelia to fetch her father. Lear continues 
to behave madly and runs away. The gentleman sent to fetch 
Lear does not run after him but continues to tell Edgar 
lengthily about the position of the French and the British 
armies. 

Oswald enters and, seeing Gloucester and wishing to obtain 
the reward promised by Regan, attacks him; but Edgar, with 
his stave, kills Oswald, who when dying gives Edgar (the 
man who has killed him) Goneril's letter to Edmund, the 
delivery of which will earn a reward. In this letter Goneril 
promises to kill her husband and marry Edmund. Edgar 
drags out Oswald's body by the legs, and then returns and 
leads his father away. 

Scene VII of Act IV takes place in a tent in the French 
camp. Lear is asleep on a bed. Cordelia enters with Kent, 
still in disguise. Lear is awakened by music and, seeing 
Cordelia, does not believe she is alive but thinks her an ap- 
parition, and does not believe that he is himself alive. Cor- 



ON SHAKESPEARE 415 

delia assures him that she is his daughter, and begs him to 
bless her. He goes on his knees before her, begs forgiveness, 
admits himself to be old and foolish, and says he is ready to 
take poison, which he thinks she probably has prepared for 
him, as he is persuaded that she must hate him. 

For your sisters 
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong; 
You have some cause, they have not. 

Then little by little he comes to his senses and ceases to rave. 
His daughter suggests that he should take a little walk. He 
consents and says: 

You must bear with me: 
Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish. 

They go off. The gentleman and Kent, who remain on the 
scene, talk in order to explain to the audience that Edmund 
is at the head of the forces and that a battle must soon begin 
between Lear's defenders and his enemies. So Act IV ends. 

In this Fourth Act the scene between Lear and his daughter 
might have been touching had it not been preceded in three 
previous acts by the tedious monotonous ravings of Lear, and 
also had it been the final scene expressing his feelings, but it 
is not the last. 

In Act V Lear's former cold pompous artificial ravings are 
repeated, destroying the impression the preceding scene might 
have produced. 

Scene I of Act V shows us Edmund and Regan (who is 
jealous of her sister and offers herself to Edmund). Then 
Goneril comes on with her husband and soldiers. The Duke 
of Albany, though he pities Lear, considers it his duty to 
fight against the French who have invaded his country, and 
so prepares himself for battle. 

Then Edgar enters, still disguised, and hands the Duke of 



416 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Albany the letter, and says that if the Duke wins the battle 
he should let a herald sound a trumpet, and then (this is 800 
years B. C.) a champion will appear who will prove that the 
contents of the letter are true. 

In Scene II Edgar enters leading his father, whom he seats 
by a tree, and himself goes off. The sounds of a battle are 
heard, Edgar runs back and says that the battle is lost; Lear 
and Cordelia are prisoners. Gloucester is again in despair. 
Edgar, still not disclosing himself to his father, tells him that 
he should not despair, and Gloucester at once agrees with 
him. 

Scene III opens with a triumphal progress of Edmund the 
victor. Lear and Cordelia are prisoners. Lear, though he 
is now no longer insane, still utters the same sort of sense- 
less, inappropriate words, as, for instance, that in prison with 
Cordelia, 

We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage, 
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down, 
And ask of thee forgiveness. 

(This kneeling down comes three times over.) He also says 
that when they are in prison they will wear out poor rogues 
and "sects of great ones that ebb and flow by the moon," that 
he and she are sacrifices upon which "the gods throw incense," 
that "he that parts them shall bring a brand from heaven, and 
fire us hence like foxes" and that 

The good years shall devour them, flesh and fell, 
Ere they shall make us weep, 

and so forth. 

Edmund orders Lear and his daughter to be led away to 
prison, and having ordered a captain to do them some hurt, 
asks him whether he will fulfil it. The captain replies "I 
cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats; but if it be man's 



ON SHAKESPEARE 417 

work I will do it." The Duke of Albany, Goneril, and Regan 
enter. The Duke wishes to take Lear's part, but Edmund op- 
poses this. The sisters intervene and begin to abuse each 
other, being jealous of Edmund. Here everything becomes 
so confused that it is difficult to follow the action. The 
Duke of Albany wants to arrest Edmund, and tells Regan 
that Edmund had long ago entered into guilty relations with 
his wife and that therefore Regan must give up her claim on 
Edmund, and if she wishes to marry should marry him, the 
Duke of Albany. 

Having said this, the Duke challenges Edmund and orders 
the trumpet to be sounded, and if no one appears intends him- 
self to fight him. 

At this point Regan, whom Goneril has evidently poisoned, 
writhes with pain. Trumpets are sounded and Edgar enters 
with a visor which conceals his face, and without giving 
his name challenges Edmund. Edgar abuses Edmund; Ed- 
mund casts back all the abuse on Edgar's head. They fight 
and Edmund falls. Goneril is in despair. 

The Duke of Albany shows Goneril her letter. Goneril 
goes off. 

Edmund while dying recognises that his opponent is his 
brother. Edgar raises his visor and moralises to the effect 
that for having an illegitimate son, Edmund, his father has 
paid with the loss of his sight. After this Edgar tells the 
Duke of Albany of his adventures and that he has only now, 
just before coming to this combat, disclosed himself to his 
father, and his father could not bear it and died of excite- 
ment. Edmund, who is not yet dead, asks what else 
happened. 

Then Edgar relates that while he was sitting by his father's 
body a man came, embraced him closely, cried out as if he 
would burst heaven, threw himself on his father's corpse, and 
told a most piteous tale about Lear and himself, and having 



418 TOLSTOY ON ART 

told it "the strings of life began to crack," but just then the 
trumpet sounded twice and he, Edgar, left him "tranced." 
And this was Kent. Before Edgar had finished telling this 
story a gentleman runs in with a bloody knife, shouting, 
"Help ! " To the question "Who has been killed ?" the gentle- 
man says that Goneril is dead, who had poisoned her sister. 
She had confessed this. Kent enters, and at this moment 
the bodies of Regan and Goneril are brought in. Edmund 
thereupon says that evidently the sisters loved him greatly, 
as the one had poisoned the other and then killed herself for 
his sake. At the same time he confesses that he had given 
orders to kill Lear and hang Cordelia in prison, under the 
pretence that she had committed suicide; but that he now 
wishes to prevent this, and having said so, he dies and is 
carried out. 

After this Lear enters with Cordelia's dead body in his 
arms (though he is over eighty years of age and ill). And 
again there begin his terrible ravings which make one feel 
as ashamed as one does when listening to unsuccessful jokes. 
Lear demands that they should all howl, and alternately be- 
lieves that Cordelia is dead and that she is alive. He says : 

Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so 
That heaven's vault should crack. 

Then he recounts how he has killed the slave who hanged 
Cordelia. Next he says that his eyes see badly, and there- 
upon recognises Kent whom all along he had not recognised. 

The Duke of Albany says that he resigns his power as long 
as Lear lives, and that he will reward Edgar and Kent and 
all who have been true to him. At that moment news is 
brought that Edmund has died; and Lear, continuing his 
ravings, begs that they will undo one of his buttons, the same 
request he made when he was roaming about the heath. He 



ON SHAKESPEARE 419 

expresses his thanks for this, tells them all to look some- 
where, and with these words he dies. 

In conclusion the Duke of Albany, who remains alive, says : 

The weight of this sad time we must obey; 
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. 
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young 
Shall never see so much, nor live so long. 

All go off to the sound of a dead march. This ends 
Act V of the play. 



Ill 

Such is this celebrated play. Absurd as it may appear in 
this rendering (which I have tried to make as impartial as 
possible), I can confidently say that it is yet more absurd in 
the original. To any man of our time, were he not under 
the hypnotic influence of the suggestion that this play is the 
height of perfection, it would be enough to read it to the end, 
had he patience to do so, to convince himself that far from 
being the height of perfection it is a very poor, carelessly 
constructed work which, if it may have been of interest to a 
certain public of its own day, can among us evoke nothing 
but aversion and weariness. And any man of our day free 
from such suggestion would receive just the same impression 
from the other much praised dramas of Shakespeare, not to 
speak of the absurd dramatised tales, Pericles, Twelfth 
Night, The Tempest, Cymbeline, and Troilus and Cressida. 

But such free-minded people, not pre-disposed to Shake- 
speare worship, are no longer to be found in our time and in 
our Christian society. Into every man of our society and 
time, from an early period of his conscious life, has been in- 
stilled the idea that Shakespeare is a poetic and dramatic 
genius and that all his works are the height of perfection, 



420 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And therefore, superfluous as it would seem, I will try to in- 
dicate in the play of King Lear which I have chosen, the 
defects characteristic of all Shakespeare's tragedies and 
comedies, as a result of which they not only fail to furnish 
models of dramatic art but fail to satisfy the most elementary 
and generally recognised requirements of art. 

According to the laws laid down by those very critics who 
extol Shakespeare, the conditions of every tragedy are that 
the persons who appear should, as a result of their own char- 
acters, actions, and the natural movement of events, be 
brought into conditions in which, finding themselves in oppo- 
sition to the world around them, they should struggle with it 
and in that struggle display their inherent qualities. 

In the tragedy of King Lear the persons represented are 
indeed externally placed in opposition to the surrounding 
world and struggle against it. But the struggle does not re- 
sult from a natural course of events and from their own char- 
acters, but is quite arbitrarily arranged by the author, and 
therefore cannot produce on the reader that illusion which 
constitutes the chief condition of art. Lear is under no neces- 
sity, and has no reason, to resign his power. And having 
lived all their lives with his daughters he also has no reason 
to believe the words of the two elder, and not to believe the 
truthful statement of the youngest; yet on this the whole 
tragedy of his position is built. 

Equally unnatural is the secondary and very similar plot: 
the relation of Gloucester to his sons. The position of Glou- 
cester and Edgar arises from the fact that Gloucester, just like 
Lear, immediately believes the very grossest deception, and 
does not even try to ask the son who had been deceived, 
whether the accusation against him is true, but curses him and 
drives him away. 

The fact that the relation of Lear to his daughters is just 
the same as that of Gloucester to his sons, makes one feel even 



ON SHAKESPEARE 421 

more strongly that they are both arbitrarily invented and do 
not flow from the characters or the natural course of events. 
Equally unnatural and obviously invented is the fact that 
all through the play Lear fails to recognise his old courtier, 
Kent ; and so the relations of Lear and Kent fail to evoke the 
sympathy of reader or hearer. This applies in an even 
greater degree to the position of Edgar, whom nobody rec- 
ognises, who acts as guide to his blind father and persuades 
him that he has leapt from a cliff when Gloucester has really 
jumped on level ground. 

These positions in which the characters are quite arbitrar- 
ily placed are so unnatural that the reader or spectator is 
unable either to sympathise with their sufferings or even to be 
interested in what he reads or hears. That in the first place. 

Secondly, there is the fact that both in this and in Shakes- 
peare's other dramas all the people live, think, speak, and act, 
quite out of accord with the given period and place. The 
action of King Lear takes place 800 years B. C, and yet the 
characters in it are placed in conditions possible only in the 
Middle Ages: Kings, dukes, armies, illegitimate children, 
gentlemen, courtiers, doctors, farmers, officers, soldiers, 
knights in armour, and so on, appear in it. Perhaps such 
anachronisms (of which all Shakespeare's plays are full) did 
not infringe the possibility of illusion in the 16th century and 
the beginning of the 17th, but in our time it is no longer 
possible to interest oneself in the development of events one 
knows could not have occurred in the conditions the author 
describes in detail. 

The artificiality of the positions, which do not arise from a 
natural course of events and from the characters of the peo- 
ple engaged, and their incompatibility with the period and the 
place, is further increased by the coarse embellishments 
Shakespeare continually makes use of in passages meant to 
be specially touching. The extraordinary storm during 



422 TOLSTOY ON ART 

which Lear roams about the heath, or the weeds which for 
some reason he puts on his head, as Ophelia does in Hamlet, 
or Edgar's attire all these effects, far from strengthening 
the impression, produce a contrary effect. "Man sieht die 
Absicht und man wird verstimmt" 1 as Goethe says. It often 
happens as for instance with such obviously intentional 
effects as the dragging out of half-a-dozen corpses by the legs, 
with which Shakespeare often ends his tragedies that in- 
stead of feeling fear and pity one feels the absurdity of the 
thing. 

IV 

But not only are the characters in Shakespeare's plays 
placed in tragic positions which are quite impossible, do not 
result from the course of events, and are inappropriate to the 
period and the place, but they also behave in a way not in 
accord with their own definite characters and that is quite ar- 
bitrary. It is customary to assert that in Shakespeare's 
dramas character is particularly well expressed, and that with 
all his vividness his people are as many-sided as real peo- 
ple, and that while exhibiting the nature of a certain given 
individual they also show the nature of man in general. It 
is customary to say that Shakespeare's deHnejaJion of charac- 
ter is the height of perfection. This is asserted with great 
confidence and repeated by everyone as an indisputable 
verity, but much as I have tried to find confirmation of this 
in Shakespeare's dramas, I have always found the reverse. 

From the very beginning of reading any of Shakespeare's 
plays I was at once convinced that it was perfectly evident 
that he is lacking in the chief, if not the sole, means of por- 
traying character, which is individuality of language that 
each person should speak in a way suitable to his own char- 

1 "One sees the intention and one is put off." 



ON SHAKESPEARE 423 

acter. That is lacking in Shakespeare. All his characters 
speak, not a language of their own but always one and the 
same Shakespearean, affected, unnatural language, which 
not only could they not speak, but which no real people could 
ever have spoken anywhere. 

No real people could speak, or could have spoken, as Lear 
does saying that, "I would divorce me from thy mother's 
tomb" if Regan did not receive him, or telling the winds to 
"crack your cheeks," or bidding "the wind blow the earth into 
the sea," or "swell the curl'd waters 'bove the main," as the 
gentleman describes what Lear said to the storm, or that it 
is easier to bear one's griefs and "the mind much sufferance 
doth o'erskip, when grief hath mates, and bearing fellow- 
ship" ("bearing" meaning suffering), that Lear is "childed, 
as I father'd," as Edgar says, and so forth unnatural ex- 
pressions such as overload the speeches of the people in all 
Shakespeare's dramas. 

But it is not only that the characters all talk as no real peo- 
ple ever talked or could talk; they are also all afflicted by 
a common intemperance of language. 

In love, preparing for death, fighting or dying, they all 
talk at great length and unexpectedly about quite irrevelant 
matters, guided more by the sound of the words and by puns 
than by the thoughts. 

And they all talk alike. Lear raves just as Edgar does 
when feigning madness. Kent and the fool both speak alike. 
The words of one person can be put into the mouth of an- 
other, and by the character of the speech it is impossible to 
know who is speaking. If there is a difference in the speech 
of Shakespeare's characters, it is only that Shakespeare 
makes different speeches for his characters, and not that 
they speak differently. 

Thus Shakespeare always speaks for his kings in one and 
the same inflated, empty language. Similarly all his women 



424 TOLSTOY ON ART 

who are intended to be poetic, speak the same pseudo- 
sentimental Shakespearean language: Juliet, Desdemona, 
Cordelia, and Mariana. In just the same way also it is 
Shakespeare who always speaks for his villains: Richard, 
Edmund, Iago, and Macbeth expressing for them those 
maligant feelings which villains never express. And yet more 
identical is the talk of his madmen, with their terrible words, 
and the speeches of his fools with their mirthless witticisms. 

So that the individual speech of living people that indi- 
vidual speech which in drama is the chief means of present- 
ing character is lacking in Shakespeare. (If gesture is also 
a means of expressing character, as in the ballet, it is only 
a subsidiary means.) If the characters utter whatever comes 
to hand and as it comes to hand and all in one and the same 
way, as in Shakespeare, even the effect of gesture is lost; 
and therefore whatever blind worshippers of Shakespeare 
may say, Shakespeare does not show us characters. 

Those persons who in his dramas stand out as characters, 
are characters borrowed by him from earlier works which 
served as the bases of his plays, and they are chiefly depicted, 
not in the dramatic manner which consists of making each 
person speak in his own diction, but in the epic manner, by 
one person describing the qualities of another. 

The excellence of Shakespeare's depiction of character is 
asserted chiefly on the ground of the characters of Lear, Cor- 
delia, Othello, Desdemona, Falstaff, and Hamlet. But 
these characters, like all the others, instead of belonging to 
Shakespeare, are taken by him from previous dramas, chroni- 
cles, and romances. And these characters were not merely not 
strengthened by him, but for the most part weakened and 
spoilt. This is very evident in the drama of King Lear 
which we are considering, and which was taken by Shake- 
speare from the play of King Leir by an unknown author. 
The characters of this drama, such as Lear himself and in par- 



ON SHAKESPEARE 425 

ticular Cordelia, were not only not created by Shakespeare, but 
have been strikingly weakened by him and deprived of per- 
sonality, as compared with the older play. 

In the older play Leir resigns his power because, having 
become a widower, he thinks only of saving his soul. He 
asks his daughters about their love for him in order, by 
means of a cunning device, to keep his youngest and favour- 
ite daughter with him on his island. The two eldest are be- 
trothed, while the youngest does not wish to contract a love- 
less marriage with any of the neighbouring suitors Leir offers 
her, and he is afraid she may marry some distant potentate. 

The device he has planned, as he explains to his courtier 
Perillus (Shakespeare's Kent), is this: that when Cordelia 
tells him that she loves him more than anyone, or as much 
as her elder sisters do, he will say that in proof of her love 
she must marry a prince he will indicate on his island. 

All these motives of Lear's conduct are lacking in Shake- 
speare's play. Then, when (according to the older play) 
Leir asks his daughters about their love for him, Cordelia 
does not reply (as Shakespeare has it) that she will not give 
her father all her love but will also love her husband if she 
marries to say which is quite unnatural but simply says 
that she cannot express her love in words but hopes her ac- 
tions will prove it. Goneril and Regan make remarks to 
the effect that Cordelia's answer is not an answer, and that 
their father cannot quietly accept such indifference. So that 
in the older play there is an explanation, lacking in Shake- 
speare, of Leir's anger at the youngest daughter's reply. Leir 
is vexed at the non-success of his cunning device, and the 
venomous words of his elder daughters add to his irritation. 
After the division of his kingdom between the two eldest 
daughters in the older play comes a scene between Cordelia 
and the King of Gaul which, instead of the impersonal Shake- 
spearean Cordelia, presents us with a very definite and at- 



426 TOLSTOY ON ART 

tractive character in the truthful, tender, self-denying young- 
est daughter. While Cordelia, not r epinin g at being de- 
prived of a share in the inheritance, sits grieving that she 
has lost her father's love and looking forward to earning 
her bread by her own toil, the King of Gaul enters, who in 
the disguise of a pilgrim wishes to choose a bride from among 
Leir's daughters. He asks Cordelia the cause of her grief. 
She tells him her woe. He, having fallen in love with her, 
in his pilgrim guise woos her for the King of Gaul, but 
Cordelia says she will only marry a man she loves. Then 
the pilgrim offers her his hand and heart, and Cordelia con- 
fesses that she loves him and, notwithstanding the poverty 
and privation that she thinks awaits her, agrees to marry 
him. Then the pilgrim discloses to her that he is himself the 
King of Gaul, and Cordelia marries him. 

Instead of this scene Lear, according to Shakespeare, pro- 
poses to Cordelia's two suitors to take her without dowry, and 
one cynically refuses, while the other takes her without our 
knowing why. 

After this in the older play, as in Shakespeare, Leir under- 
goes insults from Goneril to whose house he has gone, but 
he bears these insults in a very different way from that repre- 
sented by Shakespeare: he feels that by his conduct to Cor- 
delia he has deserved them, and he meekly submits. As in 
Shakespeare so also in the older play, the courtier, Perillus 
(Kent) who has taken Cordelia's part and has therefore been 
punished, comes to Leir, only not disguised, but simply as 
a faithful servant who does not abandon his King in a mo- 
ment of need, and assures him of his love. Leir says to 
him what in Shakespeare Lear says to Cordelia in the last 
scene that if his daughters whom he has benefited hate him, 
surely one to whom he has done evil cannot love him. But 
Perillus (Kent) assures the King of his love, and Leir, paci- 
fied goes on to Regan. In the older play there are no tempests 



ON SHAKESPEARE 427 

or tearing out of grey hairs, but there is a weakened old 
Leir, overpowered by grief and humbled, and driven out by 
his second daughter also, who even wishes to kill him. 
Turned out by his eldest daughters, Leir in the older play, 
as a last resource, goes with Perillus to Cordelia. Instead 
of the unnatural expulsion of Leir during a tempest and his 
roaming about the heath, in the old play Leir with Perillus 
during their journey to France very naturally come to the 
last degree of want. They sell their clothes to pay for the 
sea-crossing, and exhausted by cold and hunger they ap- 
proach Cordelia's house in fishermen's garb. Here again, 
instead of the unnatural conjoint ravings of the fool, Lear, 
and Edgar, as presented by Shakespeare, we have in the 
older play a natural scene of the meeting between the daugh- 
ter and father. Cordelia who notwithstanding her happi- 
ness has all the time been grieving about her father and 
praying God to forgive her sisters who have done him so much 
wrong meets him, now in the last stage of want, and wishes 
immediately to disclose herself to him, but her husband ad- 
vises her not to do so for fear of agitating the weak old man. 
She agrees and takes Leir into her house, and without reveal- 
ing herself to him takes care of him. Leir revives little by 
little, and then the daughter asks him who he is, and how he 
lived formerly. If, says Leir, 

. . . from the first I should relate the cause, 

I would make a heart of adamant to weep. 

And thou, poor soul, 

Kind-hearted as thou art, 

Dost weep already ere I do begin. 

Cordelia replies: 

For God's love tell it, and when you have done, 
I'll tell the reason why I weep so soon. 



428 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And Leir relates all he has suffered from his elder daugh- 
ters, and says that he now wishes to find shelter with the one 
who would be right should she condemn him to death. "If, 
however," he says, "she will receive me with love, it will be 
God's and her work, and not my merit!" To this Cordelia 
replies, "Oh, I know for certain that thy daughter will lov- 
ingly receive thee!" "How canst thou know this without 
knowing her?" says Leir. "I know," says Cordelia, "because 
not far from here, I had a father who acted towards me as 
badly as thou hast acted towards her, yet if I were only to see 
his white head, I would creep to meet him on my knees." 
"No, this cannot be," says Leir, "for there are no children in 
the world so cruel as mine." "Do not condemn all for the 
sins of some," says Cordelia, falling on her knees. "Look 
here, dear father," she says, "look at me: I am thy loving 
daughter." The father recognises her and says: "It is not 
for thee, but for me to beg thy pardon on my knees for all 
my sins towards thee." 

Is there anything approaching this charming scene in 
Shakespeare's drama? 

Strange as the opinion may appear to Shakespeare's de- 
votees, the whole of this older play is in all respects beyond 
compare better than Shakespeare's adaptation. It is so, first 
because in it those superfluous characters the villain Ed- 
mund and the unnatural Gloucester and Edgar, who only 
distract one's attention do not appear. Secondly, it is free 
from the perfectly false "effects" of Lear's roaming about on 
the heath, his talks with the fool, and all those impossible 
disguises, non-recognitions, and wholesale deaths above all 
because in this play there is the simple, natural, and deeply 
touching character of Leir, and the yet more touching and 
clearly defined character of Cordelia, which are lacking in 
Shakespeare. And also because there is in the older drama, 
instead of Shakespeare's daubed scene of Lear's meeting with 



ON SHAKESPEARE 429 

Cordelia and her unnecessary murder, the exquisite scene of 
Leir's meeting with Cordelia, which is unequalled by any- 
thing in Shakespeare's drama. 

The older play also terminates more naturally and more in 
accord with the spectators' moral demands than does Shake- 
speare's, namely, by the King of the Gauls conquering the 
husbands of the elder sisters, and Cordelia not perishing, 
but replacing Leir in his former position. 

This is the position as regards the drama we are examining, 
borrowed from the old play King Leir. 

It is the same with Othello, which is taken from an Italian 
story, and it is the same again with the famous Hamlet. 
The same may be said of Antony, Brutus, Cleopatra, Shy- 
lock, Richard, and all Shakespeare's characters; they are all 
taken from antecedent works. Shakespeare, taking the char- 
acters already given in previous plays, stories, chronicles, or 
in Plutarch's Lives, not only fails to make them more true to 
life and more vivid, as his adulators assert, but on the con- 
trary always weakens them and often quite destroys them, as 
in King Leir : making his characters commit actions unnatural 
to them, and making them, above all, talk in a way natural 
neither to them nor to any human being. So in Othello, 
though this is we will not say the best, but the least bad 
the least overloaded with pompous verbosity, of all Shake- 
speare's dramas, the characters of Othello, Iago, Cassio, 
Emilia are far less natural and alive in Shakespeare than in 
the Italian romance. In Shakespeare Othello suffers from 
epilepsy, of which he has an attack on the stage. Afterwards 
in Shakespeare the murder of Desdemona is preceded by a 
strange vow uttered by Othello on his knees, and besides this, 
Othello in Shakespeare's play is a negro and not a Moor. 
All this is unusual, inflated, unnatural, and infringes the 
unity of the character. And there is none of all this in the 
romance. In the romance also the causes of Othello's jeal- 



430 TOLSTOY ON ART 

ousy are more naturally presented than in Shakespeare. In 
the romance Cassio, knowing whose the handkerchief is, 
goes to Desdemona to return it, but when approaching the 
back door of Desdemona's house he sees Othello coming and 
runs away from him. Othello perceives Cassio running 
away, and this it is that chiefly confirms his suspicion. This 
is omitted in Shakespeare, and yet this casual incident ex- 
plains Othello's jealousy more than anything else. In 
Shakespeare this jealousy is based entirely on Iago's machi- 
nations, which are always successful, and on his crafty 
speeches, which Othello blindly believes. Othello's mono- 
logue over the sleeping Desdemona, to the effect that he wishes 
that she when killed should look as she is when alive, and 
that he will love her when she is dead and now wishes to in- 
hale her "balmy breath" and so forth, is quite impossible. A 
man who is preparing to murder someone he loves cannot 
utter such phrases, and still less after the murder can he say 
that the sun and the moon ought now to be eclipsed and the 
globe to yawn, nor can he, whatever kind of a nigger he may 
be, address devils, inviting them to roast him in sulphur, and 
so forth. And finally, however effective may be his suicide 
(which does not occur in the romance) it quite destroys the 
conception of his firm character. If he really suffers from 
grief and remorse then, when intending to kill himself, he 
would not utter phrases about his own services, about a pearl, 
about his eyes dropping tears "as fast as the Arabian trees 
their medicinable gum/' and still less could he talk about the 
way a Turk scolded a Venetian, and how "thus" he punished 
him for it! So that despite the powerful movement of feel- 
ing in Othello, when under the influence of Iago's hints 
jealousy rises in him, and afterwards in his scene with Desde- 
mona, one's conception of Othello's character is constantly 
infringed by false pathos and by the unnatural speeches he 
utters. 



ON SHAKESPEARE 431 

So it is with the chief character Othello. But notwith- 
standing the disadvantageous alterations it has undergone in 
comparison with the character from which he is taken in the 
romance, Othello still remains a character. But all the other 
personages have been quite spoilt by Shakespeare. 

Iago in Shakespeare's play is a complete villain, a de- 
ceiver, a thief, and avaricious; he robs Roderigo, succeeds in 
all sorts of impossible designs, and therefore is a quite un- 
real person. In Shakespeare the motive of his villainy is, 
first, that he is offended at Othello not having given him a 
place he desired; secondly, that he suspects Othello of an in- 
trigue with his wife; and thirdly that, as he says, he feels a 
strange sort of love for Desdemona. There are many mo- 
tives, but they are all vague. In the romance there is one 
motive, and it is simple and clear : Iago's passionate love for 
Desdemona, changing into hatred of her and of Othello after 
she had preferred the Moor to him and had definitely re- 
pulsed him. Yet more unnatural is the quite unnecessary 
figure of Roderigo, whom Iago deceives and robs, promising 
him Desdemona's love and obliging him to do as he is or- 
dered : to make Cassio drunk, to provoke him, and then to kill 
him. Emilia, who utters anything it occurs to the author to 
put into her mouth, bears not even the slightest resemblance to 
a real person. 

"But Falstaff, the wonderful Falstaff! " Shakespeare's eulo- 
gists, will say. "It is impossible to assert that he is not a 
live person, and that, having been taken out of an anonymous 
comedy, he has been weakened." 

Falstaff, like all Shakespeare's characters, was taken from 
a play by an unknown author, written about a real person, 
a Sir John Oldcastle, who was the friend of some Duke. 
This Oldcastle had once been accused of heresy, but had been 
saved by his friend the Duke. But afterwards he was con- 
demned and burnt at the stake for his religious beliefs, which 



482 TOLSTOY ON ART 

clashed with Catholicism. To please the Roman Catholic 
public an unknown author wrote a play about Oldcastle, ridi- 
culing this martyr for his faith and exhibiting him as a 
worthless man, a boon companion of the Duke; and from this 
play Shakespeare took not only the character of Falstaff but 
also his own humorous attitude towards him. In the first 
plays of Shakespeare's in which this character appears he 
was called Oldcastle; but afterwards, when under Elizabeth 
Protestantism had again triumphed, it was awkward to mock 
at this martyr of the struggle with Catholicism, and besides, 
Oldcastle's relatives had protested, and Shakespeare changed 
the name from Oldcastle to Falstaff also an historical char- 
acter, notorious for having run away at the battle of 
Agincourt. 

Falstaff is really a thoroughly natural and characteristic 
personage, almost the only natural and characteristic one 
depicted by Shakespeare. And he is natural and characteris- 
tic because, of all Shakespeare's characters, he alone speaks in 
a way proper to himself. He speaks in a manner proper to 
himself because he talks just that Shakespearean language, 
filled with jests that lack humour and unamusing puns, 
which, while unnatural to all Shakespeare's other characters, 
is quite in harmony with the boastful, distorted, perverted 
character of the drunken Falstaff. That is the only reason 
why this figure really presents a definite character. Unfortu- 
nately the artistic effect of the character is spoilt by the fact 
that it is so repulsive in its gluttony, drunkenness, debauch- 
ery, rascality, mejidacity, and cowardice, that it is difficult to 
share the feeling of merry humour Shakespeare adopts to- 
wards it. Such is the case with Falstaff. 

But in none of Shakespeare's figures is, I will not say his 
inability but his complete indifference, to giving his people 
characters so strikingly noticeable as in the case of Hamlet, 
and with no other of Shakespeare's works is the blind worship 



ON SHAKESPEARE 433 

of Shakespeare so strikingly noticeable that unreasoning 
hypnotism which does not even admit the thought that any 
production of his can be other than a work of genius, or 
that any leading character in a drama of his can fail to be 
the expression of a new and profoundly conceived character. 

Shakespeare takes the ancient story not at all bad of its 
kind relating: avec quelle ruse Amlet qui depuis jut Roy de 
Dannemarch, vengea la mort de son pere Horwendille, occis 
par Fengon, son frere, et autre occurrence de son histoire, or a 
drama that was written on the same theme fifteen years be- 
fore him; and he writes his play on this subject introducing in- 
appropriately (as he constantly does) into the mouth of the 
chief character all such thoughts of his own as seem to him 
worthy of attention. Putting these thoughts into his hero's 
mouth: about life (the grave-diggers); about death ("To be 
or not to be") ; those he had expressed in his sixty-sixth son- 
net about the theatre and about women he did not at all con- 
cern himself as to the circumstances under which these 
speeches are delivered, and it naturally results that the per- 
son uttering these various thoughts becomes a mere phono- 
graph of Shakespeare, deprived of any character of his own; 
and his actions and words do not agree. 

In the legend Hamlet's personality is quite intelligible: he 
is revolted by the conduct of his uncle and his mother, wishes 
to be revenged on them, but fears that his uncle may kill 
him as he had killed his father, and therefore pretends to be 
mad, wishing to wait and observe all that was going on at 
court. But his uncle and his mother, being afraid of him, 
wish to find out whether he is feigning, or is really mad, and 
send a girl he loves to him. He keeps up his role, and after- 
wards sees his mother alone, kills a courtier who was eaves- 
dropping, and convicts his mother of her sin. Then he is 
sent to England. He intercepts letters, returns from Eng- 
land, and revenges himself on his enemies, burning them all. 



434 TOLSTOY ON ART 

This is all intelligible and flows from Hamlet's character 
and position. But Shakespeare, by putting into Hamlet's 
mouth speeches he wished to publish and making him per- 
form actions he needed to secure effective scenes, destroys 
all that forms Hamlet's character in the legend. Throughout 
the whole tragedy Hamlet does not do what he might wish to 
do, but what is needed for the author's plans: now he is fright- 
ened by his father's ghost, and now he begins to chaff it, calling 
it "old mole"; now he loves Ophelia, now he teases her, and 
so on. There is no possibility of finding any explanation of 
Hamlet's actions and speeches, and therefore no possibility of 
attributing any character to him. 

But as it is accepted that Shakespeare, the genius, could 
write nothing bad, learned men devote all the power of their 
minds to discovering extraordinary beauties in what is an 
obvious and glaring defect particularly obvious in Hamlet 
namely, 'that the chief person in the play has no character 
at all. And, lo and behold, profound critics announce that 
in this drama, in the person of Hamlet, is most powerfully 
presented a perfectly new and profound character, consist- 
ing in this, that the person has no character; and that in this 
absence of character lies an achievement of genius the crea- 
tion of a profound character ! And having decided this, the 
learned critics write volumes upon volumes, until the Lauda- 
tions and explanations of the grandeur and importance of 
depicting the character of a man without a character fill whole 
libraries. It is true that some critics timidly express the 
thought that there is something strange about this person, 
and that Hamlet is an unsolved riddle; but no one ventures 
to say, as in Hans Andersen's story, that the king is naked; 
that it is clear as day that Shakespeare was unable, and did 
not even wish, to give Hamlet any character and did not even 
understand that this was necessary! And learned critics 
continue to study and praise this enigmatical production, 



ON SHAKESPEARE 435 

which reminds one of the famous inscribed stone found by 
Pickwick at a cottage doorstep, which divided the scientific 
world into two hostile camps. 

So that neither the character of Lear, nor of Othello, nor 
of Falstaff, and still less of Hamlet, at all confirms the ex- 
isting opinion that Shakespeare's strength lies in the delinea- 
tion of character. 

If in Shakespeare's plays some figures are met with that 
have characteristic traits (mostly secondary figures as 
Polonius in Hamlet, and Portia in The Merchant of Venice) 
these few life-like figures among the five hundred or more 
secondary figures, and with the complete absence of character 
in the principal figures are far from proving that the ex- 
cellence of Shakespeare's dramas lies in the presentation of 
character. 

That a great mastery in the presentation of character is 
attributed to Shakespeare arises from his really possessing 
a peculiarity which, when helped out by the play of good 
actors, may appear to superficial observers to be a capacity to 
manage scenes in which a movement of feeling is expressed. 
However arbitrary the positions in which he puts his charac- 
ters, however unnatural to them the language he makes them 
speak, however lacking in individuality they may be, the 
movement of feeling itself, its increase and change and the 
combination of many contrary feelings, are often expressed 
correctly and powerfully in some of Shakespeare's scenes. 
And this, when performed by good actors, evokes, if but for 
a while, sympathy for the persons represented. 

Shakespeare, himself an actor and a clever man, knew not 
only by speeches but by exclamations, gestures, and the repeti- 
tion of words, how to express the state of mind and changes 
of feeling occurring in the persons represented. So that in 
many places Shakespeare's characters instead of speaking, 
merely exclaim, or weep, or in the midst of a monologue indi- 



TOLSTOY ON ART 

cate the pain of their position by gesture (as when Lear asks 
to have a button undone), or at a moment of strong excite- 
ment they repeat a question several times and cause a word 
to be repeated which strikes them, as is done by Othello, Mac- 
duff, Cleopatra, and others. Similar clever methods of ex- 
pressing a movement of feeling giving good actors a chance 
to show their powers have often been taken by many critics 
for the expression of character. But however strongly the 
play of feeling may be expressed in one scene, a single scene 
cannot give the character of a person, when, after the ap- 
propriate exclamations or gesture, that person begins to talk 
lengthily not in a natural manner proper to him, but accord- 
ing to the author's whim uttering things unnecessary and 
not in harmony with his character. 



"Well, but the profound utterances and sayings delivered 
by Shakespeare's characters?" Shakespeare's eulogists will 
exclaim. "Lear's monologue on punishment, Kent's on venge- 
ance, Edgar's on his former life, Gloucester's reflections on 
the perversity of fate, and in other dramas the famous mono- 
logues of Hamlet, Antony and others?" 

Thoughts and sayings may be appreciated, I reply, in 
prose works, in essays, in collections of aphorisms, but not 
in artistic dramatic works the aim of which is to elicit sym- 
pathy with what is represented. And therefore the mono- 
logues and sayings of Shakespeare, even if they contained 
many very profound and fresh thoughts, which is not the case, 
cannot constitute the excellence of an artistic and poetic work. 
On the contrary, these speeches, uttered in unnatural condi- 
tions, can only spoil artistic works. 

f An artistic poetic work, especially a drama, should first of 
, all evoke in reader or spectator the illusion that what the per- 
sons represented are living through and experiencing, is be- 



ON SHAKESPEARE 437 

ing lived through and experienced by himself. And for this 
purpose it is not more important for the dramatist to know 
precisely what he should make his acting characters do and 
say, than it is to know what he should not make them say and 
do so as not to infringe the reader's or spectator's illusion^ 
However eloquent and profound they may be, speeeches put 
into the mouths of acting characters if they are superfluous 
and do not accord with the situation and the characters, infringe 
the main condition of dramatic work the illusion causing 
the reader or spectator to experience the feelings of the per- 
sons represented. One may without infringing the illusion 
leave much unsaid: the reader or spectator will himself sup- 
ply what is needed and sometimes as a result of this his illu- 
sion is even increased; but to say what is superfluous is like 
jerking and scattering a statue made up of small pieces, or 
taking the lamp out of a magic lantern. The reader's or 
spectator's attention is distracted, the reader sees the author, 
the spectator sees the actor, the illusion is lost, and to re- 
create it is sometimes impossible. And therefore without 
a sense of proportion there cannot be an artist, especially a 
dramatist. And Shakespeare is entirely devoid of this feeling. 
Shakespeare's characters continually do and say what is 
not merely unnatural to them but quite unnecessary. I will 
not cite examples of this, for I think that a man who does 
not himself perceive this striking defect in all Shakespeare's 
dramas will not be convinced by any possible examples or 
proofs. It is sufficient to read King Lear alone, with the 
madness, the murders, the plucking out of eyes, Gloucester's 
jump, the poisonings, and the torrents of abuse not to men- 
tion Pericles, A Winter's Tale or The Tempest, to convince 
oneself of this. Only a man quite devoid of the sense of 
proportion and taste could produce the types of Titus An- 
dronicus and Troilus and Cressida, and so mercilessly distort 
the old drama of King Leir. 



438 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Gervinus tries to prove that Shakespeare possessed a feel- 
ing of beauty, Schonheit's Sinn, but all Gervinus's proofs 
only show that he himself, Gervinus, completely lacked it. 
In Shakespeare everything is exaggerated : the actions are ex- 
aggerated, so are their consequences, the speeches of the char- 
acters are exaggerated, and therefore at every step the possi- 
bility of artistic impression is infringed. 

Whatever people may say, however they may be enrap- 
tured by Shakespeare's works, whatever merits they may at- 
tribute to them, it is certain that he was not an artist, and 
that his works are not artistic productions. Without a sense 
of proportion there never was or could be an artist, just as 
without a sense of rhythm there cannot be a musician. And 
Shakespeare may be anything you like only not an artist. 

"But one must not forget the times in which Shakespeare 
wrote," says his belauders. "It was a time of cruel and coarse 
manners, a time of the then fashionable euphuism, that is, 
an artificial manner of speech a time of forms of life strange 
to us, and therefore to judge Shakespeare one must keep in 
view the times when he wrote. In Homer, as in Shakespeare, 
there is much that is strange to us, but this does not prevent 
our valuing the beauties of Homer," say the belauders. But 
when one compares Shakespeare with Homer, as Gervinus 
does, the infinite distance separating true poetry from its 
imitation emerges with special vividness. However distant 
Homer is from us, we can without the slightest effort trans- 
port ourselves into the life he describes. And we are thus 
transported chiefly because, however alien to us may be the 
events Homer describes, he believes in what he says and 
speaks seriously of what he is describing, and therefore he 
never exaggerates and the sense of measure never deserts him. 
And therefore it happens that, not to speak of the wonderfully 
distinct, life-like, and excellent characters of Achilles, Hec- 
tor, Priam, Odysseus, and the eternally touching scenes of 



ON SHAKESPEARE 439 

Hector's farewell, of Priam's embassy, of the return of Odys- 
seus, and so forth, the whole of the Iliad and particularly the 
Odyssey, is as naturally close to us all as if we had lived and 
were now living among the gods and heroes. But it is not so 
with Shakespeare. From his first words exaggeration is 
seen: exaggeration of events, exaggeration of feeling, and ex- 
aggeration of expressions. It is at once evident that he does 
not believe in what he is saying, that he doesn't need it, that 
he is inventing the occurrences he describes, is indifferent to 
his characters, and has devised them merely for the stage, and 
therefore makes them do and say what may strike his pub- 
lic; and so we do not believe either in the events, or in the 
actions, or in the sufferings of his characters. Nothing so 
clearly shows the complete absence of esthetic feeling in 
Shakespeare, as a comparison between him and Homer. The 
works which we call the works of Homer, are artistic, poetic, 
original works, lived through by their author or authors. 

But Shakespeare's works are compositions devised for a 
particular purpose and having absolutely nothing in common 
with art or poetry. 

VI 

But perhaps the loftiness of Shakespeare's conception of 
life is such as, even though he does not satisfy the demands of 
esthetics, discloses to us so new and important a view of life 
that in consideration of its value all his artistic defects become 
unnoticeable. This is indeed what some belauders of Shake- 
speare say. Gervinus plainly says that besides Shakespeare's 
significance in the sphere of dramatic poetry, in which in 
his opinion he is the equal of "Homer in the sphere of the 
epic; Shakespeare being the greatest judge of the human soul, 
is a teacher of most indisputable ethical authority, and the 
most select leader in the world and in life." 



440 TOLSTOY ON ART 

In what then does this indubitable authority of the most 
select teacher in the world and in life consist? Gervinus de- 
votes the concluding chapter of his second volume (some fifty 
pages) to an explanation of this. 

The ethical authority of this supreme teacher of life, in 
the opinion of Gervinus, consists in the following: "Shake- 
speare's moral view starts from the simple point," says Ger- 
vinus, "that man is born with powers of activity," and there- 
fore, first of all, says Gervinus, Shakespeare regarded it as 
"an obligation to use our inherent power of action." (As if 
it were possible for man not to act ! ) l 

"Die thatfrdftigen Manner, Fortinbras, Bolingbroke, Alci- 
biades, Octavius spielen hier die gegensdtzlichen Rollen gegen 
die verschiedenen Thatlosen; nicht ihre Charaktere verdienen 
ihnen Allen ihr Gluck und Gedeihen etwa durch eine grosse 
Ueberlegenheit ihre Natur, sondern trotz ihrer geringern An- 
lage stellt sich ihre Thatkraft an sich uber die Unthatigkeit 
der Anderen hinaus, gleichviel aus wie schbner Quelle diese 
Passivitat, aus wie schlechter jene Thatigkeit fliesse" 2 

That is to say, that active people like Fortinbras, Boling- 
broke, Alcibiades and Octavius, Gervinus informs us, are 
contrasted by Shakespeare with various characters who do not 
display energetic activity. And, according to Shakespeare, 
happiness and success are attained by people who possess this 
active character, not at all as a result of their superiority of 
nature. On the contrary, in spite of their inferior talents, 
their energy in itself always gives them the advantage over 
the inactive people, no matter whether their inactivity re- 
sults from excellent impulses, or the activity of the others from 
base ones. Activity is good, inactivity is evil. Activity 

1 This and the quotations in English that follow are taken from Shakespeare's 
Commentaries, by Dr. G. G. Gervinus, translated by F. G. Bennett, London, 
1877. 

2 Shakespeare, Von G. G. Gervinus, Leipzig, 1872. Vol. II, pp. 550-51. 



ON SHAKESPEARE 441 

transforms evil into good, says Shakespeare, according to 
Gervinus. " Shakespeare prefers the principle of Alexander 
to that of Diogenes," says Gervinus. In other words, ac- 
cording to him, Shakespeare prefers death and murder from 
ambition, to self-restraint and wisdom. 1 

According to Gervinus, Shakespeare considers that hu- 
manity should not set itself ideals, but that all that is neces- 
sary is healthy activity, and a golden mean in everything. 
Indeed Shakespeare is so imbued with this wise moderation 
that, in the words of Gervinus, he even allows himself to 
deny Christian morality, which makes exaggerated demands 
on human nature. "How thoroughly penetrated Shakespeare 
was with this principle of wise moderation," says Gervinus, 
"is shewn perhaps most strongly in this, that he ventured even 
to oppose Christian laws which demand an overstraining of 
human nature; for he approved not that the limits of duty 
should be extended beyond the intention of nature. He 
taught therefore the wise and human medium between the 
Christian and heathen precepts" (p. 917) a reasonable 
mean, natural to man, between Christian and pagan injunc- 
tions on the one hand, love of one's enemies, and on the 
other, hatred of them ! 

"That it is possible to do too much in good things, is an ex- 
press doctrine of Shakespeare, both in word and example. 
. . . Thus excessive liberality ruins Timon, whilst moderate 
generosity keeps Antonio in honour; the genuine ambition 
which makes Henry V great overthrows Percy, in whom it 
rises too high. Exaggerated virtue brings Angelo to ruin; 
and when in those near him the excess of punishment proves 
harmful and cannot hinder sin, then mercy, the most God- 



4 



1 Tolstoy's essay Non-acting (see Essays and Letters in the "World's Classics' 
'series) deals with a controversy that occurred in 1893 between Zola and Dumas 
In it Tolstoy controverts the opinion that activity in itself, lacking moral guidance, J 
*s beneficial. 



442 TOLSTOY ON ART 

like gift that man possesses, is also exhibited in its excess, 
as the producer of sin." 

Shakespeare, says Gervinus, taught that one may do too 
much good. He teaches, says Gervinus, "that morality, like 
politics, is a matter so complicated with relations, conditions 
of life, and motives, that it is impossible to bring it to final 
principles" (p. 918). 

"In Shakespeare's opinion (and here also he is one with 
Bacon and Aristotle) there is no positive law of religion or 
morals which could form a rule of moral action in precepts 
ever binding and suitable for all cases." 

Gervinus most clearly expresses Shakespeare's whole moral 
theory by saying that Shakespeare does not write for those 
classes for whom definite religious principles and laws are 
suitable (that is to say, for 999 out of 1000 of mankind), but 
for the cultivated, who have made their own a healthy tact in 
life and such an instinctive feeling as, united with conscience 
reason and will, can direct them to worthy aims of life. But 
even for these fortunate ones, in the opinion of Gervinus, this 
teaching may be dangerous if it is taken incompletely. It 
must be taken whole. "There are classes," says Gervinus, 
"whose morality is best provided for by the positive letter of 
religion and law; but for such as these Shakespeare's writ- 
ings are in themselves inaccessible; they are only readable 
and comprehensible to the cultivated, of whom it can be re- 
quired that they should appropriate to themselves the healthy 
measure of life, and that self-reliance in which the guiding 
and inherent powers of conscience and reason, united with 
the will, are, when consciously apprehended, worthy aims of 
life" (p. 919). "But even for the cultivated also, Shake- 
speare's doctrine may not always be without danger. . . . 
The condition on which his doctrine is entirely harmless is 
this, that it should be fully and completely received and with- 



ON SHAKESPEARE 443 

out any expurging and separating. Then it is not only with- 
out danger, but it is also more unmistakable and more in- 
fallible, and therefore more worthy of our confidence, than 
any system of morality can be," (p. 919). 

And in order to accept it all, one should understand that 
according to his teaching it is insane and harmful for an indi- 
vidual to rise against, or "disregard the bonds of religion 
and the state" (p. 921 ). For Shakespeare would abhor a free 
and independent personality who strong in spirit should op- 
pose any law in politics or morals and should disregard the 
union of the state and religion "which has kept society together 
for centuries" (p. 921). "For in his opinion the practi- 
cal wisdom of man would have no higher aim than to carry 
into society the utmost possible nature and freedom, but for 
that very reason, and that he might maintain sacred and in- 
violable the natural laws of society, he would respect exist- 
ing forms, yet at the same time penetrate into their rational 
substance with sound criticism, not forgetting nature in civ- 
ilization, nor, equally, civilization in nature." Property, the 
family, the state, are sacred. But the aspiration to recognize 
the equality of man, is insane. "Jt^s realization would bring 
the greatest harm to humanity" (p. 925). 

"No man has fought more strongly against rank and class 
prejudices, than Shakespeare, but how could his liberal prin- 
ciples have been pleased with the doctrines of those who 
would have done away with the prejudices of the rich and 
cultivated, only to replace them with the interests and preju- 
dices of the poor and uncultivated? How would this man, 
who allures so eloquently to the course of honour, have ap- 
proved, if in annulling rank, degrees of merit, distinction, we 
extinguish every impulse to greatness, and by the removal 
of all degrees, 'shake the ladder to all high designs'? If in- 
deed no surreptitious honour and false power were longer 



444 TOLSTOY ON ART 

to oppress mankind, how would the poet have acknowledged 
the most fearful force of all, the power of barbarity? In 
consequence of these modern doctrines of equality, he would 
have apprehended that everything would resolve itself into 
power; or if this were not the final lot which awaited man- 
kind from these aspirations after equality, if love between 
nationalities and endless peace were not that 'nothing' of im- 
possibility, as Alonso expresses it in the Tempest, but could 
be an actual fruit of these efforts after equality, then the poet 
would have believed with this time the old age and decrepi- 
tude of the world to have arrived, in which it were worthless 
to the active to live" (p. 925). 

Such is Shakespeare's view of life as explained by his 
greatest exponent and admirer. Another of the recent be- 
lauders of Shakespeare, Brandes, adds the following : 

"No one, of course, can preserve his life quite pure from 
injustice, from deception, and from doing harm to others, but 
injustice and deception are not always vices, and even the 
harm done to other people is not always a vice: it is often 
only a necessity, a legitimate weapon, a right. At bottom, 
Shakespeare had always held that there were no such things 
as unconditional duties and absolute prohibitions. He had 
never, for example, questioned Hamlet's right to kill the 
King, scarcely even his right to run his sword through 
Polonius. Nevertheless he had hitherto been unable to con- 
quer a feeling of indignation and disgust when he saw around 
him nothing but breaches of the simplest moral laws. Now, 
on the other hand, the dim divinations of his earlier years 
crystallised in his mind into a coherent body of thought: no 
commandment is unconditional; it is not in the observance or 
non-observance of an external fiat that the merits of an ac- 
tion, to say nothing of a character, consists: everything de- 
pends upon the volitional substance into which the individual, 



ON SHAKESPEARE 445 

as a responsible agent, transmits the formal imperative at 
the moment of decision." * 

In other words Shakespeare now sees clearly that the 
morality of the aim is the only true, the only possible one; so 
that, according to Brandes, Shakespeare's fundamental prin- 
ciple, for which he is extolled, is that the end L JustiJies_tke 
means. Action at all costs, the absence of all ideals, modera- 
tion in everything, the maintenance of established forms of 
life, and the maxim that " the end justifies the means." 

If one adds to this a Chauvinistic English patriotism, ex- 
pressed in all his historical plays: a patriotism according to 
which the English throne is something sacred, the English al- 
ways defeat the French, slaughtering thousands and losing 
only scores, Jeanne d'Arc is a witch, Hector and all the Tro- 
jons from whom the English are descended are heroes 
while the Greeks are cowards and traitors, and so forth: this 
is the view of life of the wisest teacher of life according to 
his greatest admirer. And anyone who reads attentively the 
works of Shakespeare cannot but acknowledge that the attri- 
bution of this view of life to Shakespeare by those who praise 
him is perfectly correct. 

The value of every poetical work depends on three 
qualities : 

1) The content of the work: the more important the con- 
tent, that is to say, the more important it is for the life of man, 
the greater is the work. 

2) The external beauty achieved by the technical methods 
proper to the particular kind of art. Thus in dramatic art 
the technical method will be : that the characters should have 
a true individuality of their own, a natural and at the same 
time a touching plot, a correct presentation on the stage of 



1 William Shakepeare, by Georges Brandes, translated by William Archer and 
Miss Morison. London, 1898, p. 921. J 



446 TOLSTOY ON ART 

the manifestation and development of feelings, and a sense of 
proportion in all that is presented. 

3) Sincerity, that is to say that the author should himself 
vividly feel what he expresses. Without this condition there 
can be no work of art, as the essence of art consists in the 
infection of the contemplator of a work by the author's 
feeling. If the author has not felt what he is expressing, the 
recipient cannot become infected by the author's feeling, he 
does not experience any feeling, and the production cannot be 
classed as a work of art. 

The content of Shakespeare's plays, as is seen by the ex- 
planations of his greatest admirers, is the lowest, most vulgar 
view of life, which regards the external elevation of the great 
ones of the earth as a genuine superiority; despises the crowd, 
that is to say, the working classes; and repudiates not only 
religious, but even any humanitarian, efforts directed towards 
the alteration of the existing order of society. 

The second condition is also absent in Shakespeare except 
in his handling of scenes in which a movement of feelings is 
expressed. There is in his works a lack of naturalness in 
the situations, the characters lack individuality of speech, and 
a sense of proportion is also wanting, without which such 
works cannot be artistic. 

The third and chief condition sincerity is totally absent 
in all Shakespeare's works. One sees in all of them an in- 
tentional artificiality; it is obvious that he is not in earnest 
but is playing with words. 

VII 

The works of Shakespeare do not meet the demands of 
every art, and besides that their tendency is very low and im- 
moral. What then is the meaning of the immense fame these 
works have enjoyed for more than a hundred years? 



ON SHAKESPEARE 447 

To reply to this question seems the more difficult because 
if the works of Shakespeare had any kind of excellence, the 
achievement which has produced the exaggerated praise lav- 
ished upon them, would at least be to some extent intelligible. 
But here two extremes meet: works which are beneath criti- 
cism, insignificant, empty, and immoral and insensate, uni- 
versal laudation, proclaiming these works to be above every- 
thing that has ever been produced by man. 

How is this to be explained? 

Many times during my life I have had occasion to discuss 
Shakespeare with his admirers, not only with people little 
sensitive to poetry, but also with those who felt poetic beauty 
keenly, such as Turgeney, Fet, 1 and others, and each time 
I have encountered one and the same attitude towards my 
disagreement with the belaudment of Shakespeare. 

I was not answered when I pointed out Shakespeare's de- 
fects ; they only pitied me for my want of comprehension and 
urged on me the necessity of acknowledging the extraor- 
dinary supernatural grandeur of Shakespeare. They did 
not explain to me in what the beauties of Shakespeare con- 
sist, but were merely indefinitely and exaggeratedly enthusi- 
astic about the whole of Shakespeare, extolling some favour- 
ite passages: the undoing of Lear's button, Falstaff's lying, 
Lady Macbeth's spot which would not wash out, Hamlet's 
address to the ghost of his father, the " forty thousand broth- 
ers," "none does offend, none, I say none," and so forth. 

"Open Shakespeare," I used to say to these admirers of 
his, "where you will or as may chance, and you will see 
that you will never find ten consecutive lines that are com- 
prehensible, natural, characteristic of the person who utters 
them, and productive of an artistic impression." (Anyone 
may make this experiment.) And the belauders of Shake- 

1 A Russian poet of much delicacy of feeling, for many years a great friend 
of Tolstoy's. He is frequently referred to in my Life of Tolstoy. A. M. 



448 TOLSTOY ON ART 

speare opened pages in Shakespeare's dramas by chance, or 
at their own choice, and without paying any attention to the 
reasons I adduced as to why the ten lines selected did not 
meet the most elementary demands of esthetics or good sense, 
praised the very things that appeared to me absurd, unin- 
telligible, and inartistic. 

So that in general in response to my endeavours to obtain 
from the worshippers of Shakespeare an explanation of his 
greatness, I encountered precisely the attitude I have usually 
met with, and still meet, from the defenders of any dogmas ac- 
cepted not on the basis of reason but in mere credulity. And 
just this attitude of the belauders of Shakespeare towards him 
an attitude which may be met with in all the indefinite, 
misty articles about Shakespeare, and in conversations about 
him, gave me the key to an understanding of the cause of 
Shakespeare's fame. There is only one explanation of this 
astonishing fame: it is one of those epidemic suggestions to 
which people always have been and are liable. Such irra- 
tional suggestion has always existed, and does exist in all 
spheres of life. Glaring examples of such suggestion, con- 
siderable in scope and deceptiveness, were the mediaeval 
Crusades, which influenced not only adults but also children, 
and many other epidemic suggestions astonishing in their 
senselessness, such as the belief in witches, in the utility of 
torture for the discovery of truth, the search for the elixir of 
life, for the philosopher's stone, and the passion for tulips 
valued at several thousand guilders a bulb, which overran 
Holland. There always have been and always are such ir- 
rational suggestions in all spheres of human life religious, 
philosophic, economic, scientific, artistic, and in literature 
generally, and people only see clearly the insanity of such 
suggestions after they are freed from them. But as long as 
they are under their influence these suggestions appear to them 
such undoubted truths that they do not consider it necessary 



ON SHAKESPEARE 449 

or possible to reason about them. Since the development of 
the printing-press these epidemics have become particularly 
striking. 

Since the development of the press it has come about that 
as soon as, from accidental circumstances, something obtains 
a special significance, the organs of the press immediately 
announce this significance. And as soon as the press has 
put forward the importance of the matter, the public directs 
yet more attention to it. The hypnotization of the public 
incites the press to regard the thing more attentively and in 
greater detail. The interest of the public is still further in- 
creased, and the organs of the press, competing one with 
another, respond to the public demand. 

The public becomes yet more interested, and the press 
attributes yet more importance to the matter; so that this im- 
portance, growing ever greater and greater like a snowball, 
obtains a quite unnatural appreciation, and this appreciation, 
exaggerated even to absurdity, maintains itself as long as the 
outlook on life of the leaders of the press and of the public 
remains the same. There are in our day innumerable 
examples of such a misunderstanding of the importance of 
the most insignificant occurrences, occasioned by the mutual 
reaction of press and public. A striking example of this was 
the excitement which seized the whole world over the Dreyfus 
affair. A suspicion arose that some captain on the French 
staff had been guilty of treason. Whether because this cap- 
tain was a Jew, or from some special internal party disagree- 
ments in French society, this event, which resembled others 
that continually occur without arousing anyone's attention 
and without interesting the whole world or even the French 
military, was given a somewhat prominent position by the 
press. The public paid attention to it. The organs of the 
press, vying with one another, began to describe, to analyse, 
to discuss the event, the public became yet more interested, the 



450 TOLSTOY ON ART 

press responded to the demands of the public, and the snow- 
ball began to grow and grow, and grew before our eyes to 
such an extent that there was not a family which had not its 
disputes about Vafjaire. So that Caran d'Ache's caricature, 
which depicted first a peaceful family that had decided not 
to discuss the Dreyfus affair any more, and then the same 
family represented as angry furies fighting one another, 
quite correctly depicted the relation of the whole reading 
world to the Dreyfus question. Men of other nationalities 
who could not have any real interest in the question whether 
a French officer had or had not been a traitor men more- 
over who could not know how the affair was going all 
divided for or against Dreyfus, some asserting his guilt with 
assurance, others denying it with equal certainty. 

It was only after some years that people began to awaken 
from the "suggestion" and to understand that they could not 
possibly know whether he was guilty or innocent, and that 
each one of them had a thousand matters nearer and more 
interesting to him than the Dreyfus affair. Such infatua- 
tions occur in all spheres, but they are specially noticeable in 
the sphere of literature, for the press naturally occupies itself 
most of all with the affairs of the press, and these are particu- 
larly powerful in our day when the press has obtained such 
an unnatural development. It continually happens that peo- 
ple suddenly begin to devote exaggerated praise to some very 
insignificant works, and then if these works do not cor- 
respond to the prevailing view of life suddenly become per- 
fectly indifferent to them and forget both the works themselves 
and their own previous attitude towards them. 

So within my recollection, in the eighteen-forties, there 
occurred in the artistic sphere the exaltation and laudation 
of Eugene Sue and George Sand; in the social sphere, of 
Fourier ; in the philosophic sphere, of Comte and Hegel ; and 
in the scientific sphere, of Darwin, 



ON SHAKESPEARE 451 

Sue is quite forgotten, George Sand is being forgotten and 
replaced by the writings of Zola and the Decadents, Baude- 
laire, Verlaine, Maeterlinck and others. Fourier, with his 
phalansteries, is quite forgotten, and has been replaced by 
Karl Marx. Hegel, who justified the existing order, and 
Comte, who denied the necessity of religious activity in 
humanity, and Darwin, with his law of struggle for exist- 
ence, still maintain their places, but are beginning to be 
neglected and replaced by the teachings of Nietzsche, which 
though perfectly absurd, unthought-out, obscure, and bad in 
their content, correspond better to the present-day outlook on 
life. Thus it sometimes happens that artistic, philosophic, 
and literary crazes in general, arise, fall rapidly, and are 
forgotten. 

But it also happens that such crazes, having arisen in 
consequence of special causes accidently favouring their es- 
tablishment, correspond so well to the view of life diffused in 
society and especially in literary circles, that they maintain 
their place for a very long time. Even in Roman times it 
was remarked that books have their fate, and often a very 
strange one: failure in spite of high qualities, and enor- 
mous undeserved success in spite of insignificance. And a 
proverb was made: Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata 
libelli, that is, that the fate of books depends on the under- 
standing of those who read them. Such was the correspond- 
ence of Shakespeare's work to the view of life of the people 
among whom his fame arose. And this fame has been main- 
tained, and is still maintained, because the works of Shake- 
speare continue to correspond to the view of life of those who 
maintain this fame. 

Until the end of the 18th century Shakespeare not only had 
no particular fame in England, but was estimated less than 
his contemporaries: Ben Jonson, Fletcher, Beaumont, and 
others. His fame began in Germany, and from there passed 



452 TOLSTOY ON ART 

to England. This happened for the following reason: 

Art, especially dramatic art which demands for its realisa- 
tion extensive preparations, expenditure, and labour, was al- 
ways religious, that is to say, its object was to evoke in man a 
clearer conception of that relation of man to God attained at 
the time by the advanced members of the society in which 
the art was produced. 

So it should be by the nature of the matter, and so it 
always had been among all nations: among the Egyptians, 
Hindoos, Chinese, and Greeks from the earliest time that 
we have knowledge of the life of man. And it has always 
happened that, with the coarsening of religious forms, art 
had more and more diverged from this original aim (which 
had caused it to be recognised as an important matter al- 
most an act of worship) and instead of the service of religion, 
it adopted instead of religious aims worldly aims for the 
satisfaction of the demands of the crowd, or of the great 
ones of the earth, that is to say, aims of recreation and 
amusement. 

This deflection of art from its true and high vocation oc- 
curred everywhere, and it occurred in Christendom. 

The first manifestation of Christian art was in the worship 
of God in the temples : the performance of Mass and, in gen- 
eral, of the liturgy. When in course of time the forms of 
this art of divine worship became insufficient, the Mysteries 
were produced, depicting those events regarded as most im- 
portant in the Christian religious view of life. Afterwards, 
when in the 13 th and 14th centuries the centre of gravity of 
Christian teaching was more and more transferred from the 
worship of Jesus as God, to the explanation of his teaching 
and its fulfilment, the form of the Mysteries, which depicted 
external Christian events, became insufficient and new forms 
were demanded; and as an expression of this tendency ap- 
peared the Moralities, dramatic representations in which the 



ON SHAKESPEARE 453 

characters personified the Christian virtues and the opposite 
vices. 

But allegories by their very nature, as art of a lower order, 
could not replace the former religious drama, and no new 
form of dramatic art corresponding to the conception of 
Christianity as a teaching of life had yet been found. And 
dramatic art, lacking a religious basis, began in all Christian 
countries more and more to deviate from its purpose, and 
instead of a service of God became a service of the crowd 
(I mean by "crowd" not merely the common people, but the 
majority of immoral or non-moral people indifferent to the 
higher problems of human life). This deviation was helped 
on by the fact that just at that time the Greek thinkers, poets, 
and dramatists, with whom the Christian world had not 
hitherto been acquainted, were re-discovered and favourably 
accepted. And therefore, not having yet had time to work 
out for themselves a clear and satisfactory form of dramatic 
art suitable to the new conception entertained of Christianity 
as a teaching of life, and at the same time recognising the 
previous Mysteries and Moralities as insufficient, the writers 
of the 15th and 16th centuries, in their search for a new form, 
began to imitate the newly discovered Greek models, which 
were attractive by their elegance and novelty. And as it 
was chiefly the great ones of the earth who could avail them- 
selves of the drama the kings, princes, and courtiers the 
least religious people, not merely quite indifferent to ques- 
tions of religion but for the most part thoroughly depraved 
it followed that to satisfy the demands of its public the drama 
of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries was chiefly a spectacle 
intended for depraved kings and for the upper classes. Such 
was the drama of Spain, England, Italy, and France. 

The plays of that time, chiefly composed in all these coun- 
tries according to ancient Greek models, from poems, legends, 
and biographies, naturally reflected the national characters. 



454 TOLSTOY ON ART 

In Italy what was chiefly elaborated were comedies with amus- 
ing scenes and characters. In Spain the worldly drama 
flourished, with complicated plots and ancient historical 
heroes. The peculiarity of English drama was the coarse 
effects produced by murders, executions, and battles on the 
stage, and popular comic interludes. Neither the Italian, 
nor the Spanish, nor the English, drama had European fame, 
and each of them enjoyed success only in its own country. 
General fame, thanks to the elegance of its language and the 
talent of its writers, was enjoyed only by the French drama, 
which was distinguished by strict adherence to the Greek 
models, and especially to the law of the three Unities. 

So matters continued till the end of the 18th century, but 
at the end of that century this is what happened : in Germany 
which lacked even mediocre dramatists, (though there had 
been a weak and little known writer, Hans Sachs), all edu- 
cated people, including Frederick the Great, bowed down 
before the French pseudo-classical drama. And yet at that 
very time there appeared in Germany a circle of educated 
and talented writers and poets who, feeling the falsity and 
coldness of the French drama, sought a newer and freer 
dramatic form. The members of this group, like all the 
upper classes of the Christian world at that time, were under 
the charm and influence of the Greek classics and, being 
utterly indifferent to religious questions, thought that if the 
Greek drama depicting the calamities, sufferings, and strug- 
gles of its heroes supplied the best model for the drama, then 
for drama in the Christian world such representation of the 
sufferings and struggles of heroes would also be a sufficient 
subject, if only one rejected the narrow demands of pseudo- 
classicism. These men, not understanding that the sufferings 
and strife of their heroes had a religious significance for the 
Greeks, imagined that it was only necessary to reject the in- 
convenient law of the three Unities, and without containing 



ON SHAKESPEARE 55 

any religious element corresponding to the beliefs of their own 
time, the representation of various incidents in the lives of 
historic personages, and of strong human passions in general 
would afford a sufficient basis for the drama. Just such a 
drama existed at that time among the kindred English people 
and, becoming acquainted with it, the Germans decided that 
just such should be the drama of the new period. 

The masterly development of the scenes, which constitutes 
Shakespeare's speciality, caused them to select Shakespeare's 
dramas from among all other English plays which were not 
in the least inferior, but often superior, to Shakespeare's. 

At the head of the circle stood Goethe, who was then the 
dictator of public opinion on esthetic questions. And he it 
was partly from a wish to destroy the fascination of the 
false French art, partly from a wish to give freer scope to 
his own dramatic activity, but chiefly because his view of life 
agreed with Shakespeare's he it was who acclaimed Shake- 
speare a great poet. When that falsehood had been pro- 
claimed on Goethe's authority, all those esthetic critics who 
did not understand art threw themselves upon it like crows 
upon carrion, and began to search Shakespeare for non- 
existent beauties, and to extol them. These men, German 
esthetic critics for the most part utterly devoid of esthetic 
feeling, ignorant of that simple direct artistic impression 
which for men with a feeling for art clearly distinguishes 
artistic impression from all other, but believing the authority 
that had proclaimed Shakespeare as a great poet began to 
belaud the whole of Shakespeare indiscriminately, selecting 
passages especially which struck them by their effects or ex- 
pressed thoughts corresponding to their own view of life, 
imagining that such effects and such thoughts constitute the 
essence of what is called art. 

These men acted as blind men would if they tried by touch 
to select diamonds out of a heap of stones they fingered. As 



456 TOLSTOY ON ART 

the blind man, long sorting out the many little stones, 
could finally come to no other conclusion than that all the 
stones were precious and the smoothest were especially pre- 
cious, so the esthetic critics, deprived of artistic feeling, could 
come to no other result about Shakespeare. To make 
their praise of the whole of Shakespeare more convinc- 
ing they composed an esthetic theory, according to which a 
definite religious view of life is not at all necessary for the 
creation of works of art in general, or for the drama in partic- 
ular; that for the inner content of a play it is quite enough 
to depict passions and human characters, that not only is 
no religious illumination of the matter presented required, 
but that art ought to be objective, that is to say, it should 
depict occurrences quite independently of any valuation of 
what is good or bad. And as this theory was educed from 
Shakespeare, it naturally happened that the works of Shake- 
speare corresponded to this theory, and were therefore the 
height of perfection. 

And these were the people chiefly responsible for Shake- 
speare's fame. 

Chiefly in consequence of their writings, the inter-action of 
writers and the 'public came about which found expression, 
and is still expressed, by the insensate belaudment of Shake- 
speare without any rational basis. These esthetic critics 
wrote profound treatises about Shakespeare (eleven thou- 
sand volumes have been written about him, and a whole 
science of Shakespeareology has been formulated) ; the public 
became more and more interested, and the learned critics ex- 
plained more and more, that is to say, they added to the 
confusion and belaudment. 

So that the first cause of Shakespeare's fame was that the 
Germans wanted to oppose something freer and more alive 
to the French drama of which they were tired, and which was 



ON SHAKESPEARE 457 

really dull and cold. The second cause was that the young 
German writers required a model for their own dramas. The 
third and chief cause was the activity of the learned and zeal- 
ous esthetic German critics who lacked esthetic feeling and 
formulated the theory of objective art, that is to say, deliber- 
ately repudiated the religious essence of the drama. 

"But," I shall be asked, "what do you mean by the words 
'religious essence of the drama'? Is not what you demand 
for the drama religious instruction, didactics: what is called 
a tendency which is incompatible with true art?" By "the 
religious essence of art," I reply, I mean not an external in- 
culcation of any religious truth in artistic guise, and not an 
allegorical representation of those truths, but the expression 
of a definite view of life corresponding to the highest religious 
-understanding of a given period : an outlook which, serving as 
the impelling motive for the composition of the drama, perme- 
ates the whole work though the author is unconscious of it. 
So it has always been with true art, and so it is with every 
true artist in general and with dramatists especially. Hence, 
as happened when the drama was a serious thing, and as 
should be according to the essence of the matter, he alone 
can write a drama who has something to say to men some- 
thing highly important for them about man's relation to 
God, to the universe, to all that is infinite and unending. 

But when, thanks to the German theories about objective 
art, an idea had been established that, for drama, this is not 
wanted at all, then a writer like Shakespeare who in his own 
soul had not formed religious convictions corresponding to 
his period, and who had even no convictions at all, but piled ' 
up in his plays all possible events, horrors, fooleries, discus- 
sions, and effects, could evidently be accepted as the greatest 
of dramatic geniuses. 

But all these are external reasons: the fundamental inner 



458 TOLSTOY ON ART 

cause of Shakespeare's fame was, and is, that his plays fitted 
pro captu lectoris, that is to say responded to the irreligious 
and immoral attitude of the upper classes of our world. 



VIII 

A series of accidents brought it about that Goethe at the 
beginning of the last century, being the dictator of philo- 
sophic thought and esthetic laws, praised Shakespeare; the 
esthetic critics caught up that praise and began to write 
their long foggy erudite articles, and the great European 
public began to be enchanted by Shakespeare. The critics, 
responding to this public interest, laboriously vied with one 
another in writing fresh and fresh articles about Shakespeare, 
and readers and spectators were still further confirmed in 
their enthusiasm, and Shakespeare's fame kept growing and 
growing like a snowball, until in our time it has attained 
a degree of insane laudation that obviously rests on no other 
basis than suggestion. 

"There is no one even approximately equal to Shakespeare 
either among ancient or modern writers." "Poetic truth is 
the most brilliant gem in the crown of Shakespeare's service. ,, 
"Shakespeare is the greatest moralist of all times." "Shake- 
speare displays such diversity and such objectivity as place 
him beyond the limits of time and nationality." "Shake- 
speare is the greatest genius that has hitherto existed." "For 
the creation of tragedies, comedies, historical plays, idylls, 
idyllic comedies, esthetic idylls, for representation itself as 
also for incidental verses, he is the only man. He not only 
wields unlimited power over our laughter and our tears, over 
all phases of passion, humour, thought- and observation, but 
he commands an unlimited realm of imagination, full of 
fancy of a terrifying and amazing character, and he possesses 
penetration in the world of invention and of reality, and over 



ON SHAKESPEARE 459 

all this there reigns one and the same truthfulness to 
character and to nature, and the same spirit of humanity." 

"To Shakespeare the epithet of great applies naturally; and 
if one adds that independently of his greatness he has also 
become the reformer of all literature, and moreover has ex- 
pressed in his works not only the phenomena of the life of 
his time, but also from thoughts and views that in his day 
existed only in germ has prophetically foreseen the direction 
which the social spirit would take in the future (of which 
we see an amazing example in Hamlet) one may say without 
hesitation that Shakespeare was not only a great, but the 
greatest of all poets that ever existed, and that in the sphere 
of poetic creation the only rival that equals him is life itself, 
which in his productions he depicted with such perfection." 

The obvious exaggeration of this appraisement is a most 
convincing proof that it is not the outcome of sane thought, 
but of suggestion. The more insignificant, the lower, the 
emptier, a phenomenon is, once it becomes the object of sug- 
gestion, the more supernatural and exaggerated is the im- 
portance attributed to it. The Pope is not only holy, but 
most holy, and so forth. So Shakespeare is not only a good 
writer, but the greatest genius, the eternal teacher of man- 
kind. 

Suggestion is always a deceit, and every deceit is an evil. 
And really the suggestion that Shakespeare's works are great 
works of genius, presenting the climax both of esthetic and 
ethical perfection, has caused and is causing great injury 
to men. 

This injury is two-fold: first, the fall of the drama and 
the substitution of an empty immoral amusement for that 
important organ of progress, and secondly, by the direct 
degradation of men by presenting them with false models for 
imitation. 

The life of humanity only approaches perfection by the 



r 



L 



460 TOLSTOY ON ART 

elucidation of religious consciousness (the only principle 
securely uniting men one with another). The elucidation 
of the religious consciousness of man is accomplished through 
all sides of man's spiritual activity. One side of that activity 
is art. One part of art, and almost the most important, is 
the drama. 

And therefore the drama, to deserve the importance at- 
tributed to it, should serve the elucidation of religious con- 
sciousness. Such the drama always was, and such it was 
in the Christian world. But with the appearance of Prot- 
estantism in its broadest sense that is to say, the appearance 
of a new understanding of Christianity as a teaching of 
life dramatic art did not find a form corresponding to this 
new understanding of religion, and the men of the Ren- 
aissance period were carried away by the imitation of classical 
art. This was most natural, but the attraction should have 
passed, and art should have found, as it is now beginning to 
find, a new form corresponding to the altered understand- 
ing of Christianity. 

But the finding of this new form was hindered by the 
teaching, which arose among German writers at the end of 
the 18th and beginningvof the 19th centuries, of the so-called 
objectivity of art that is to say, the indifference of art to 
good or evil together with an exaggerated praise of Shake- 
speare's dramas, which partly corresponded to the esthetic 
theory of the Germans and partly served as material for 
it. Had there not been this exaggerated praise of Shake- 
speare's dramas, accepted as the most perfect models of 
drama, people of the 18th and 19th centuries and of our 
own, would have had to understand that the drama, to have 
a right to exist and be regarded as a serious matter, ought to 
serve, as always was, and cannot but be, the case, the elucida- 
tion of religious consciousness. And having understood this 



ON SHAKESPEARE 461 

they would have sought a new form of drama corresponding 
to their religious perception. 

But when it was decided that Shakespeare's drama is the 
summit of perfection, and that people ought to write as he 
did without any religious or even any moral content all 
the dramatists, imitating him, began to compose plays lack- 
ing content, like the plays of Goethe, Schiller, Hugo, and, 
among us Russians, Pushkin, and the historical plays of 
Ostrovski, Alexey Tolstoy, and the innumerable other more 
or less well-known dramatic works which fill all the theatres 
and are continually produced by anyone to whom the thought 
and desire to write plays occur. 

Only thanks to such a mean petty understanding of the 
importance of the drama do there appear among us that 
endless series of dramatic works presenting the actions, 
situations, characters, and moods of people, not only devoid 
of any spiritual content but even lacking any human sense. 
And let not the reader suppose that I exclude from this 
estimate of contemporary drama the pieces I myself have 
incidentally written for the theatre. I recognise them, just 
like all the rest, to be lacking in that religious content which 
should form the basis of the future drama. 

So that the drama, the most important sphere of art, has 
become in our time merely an empty and immoral amuse- 
ment for the empty and immoral crowd. What is worst of all 
is that to the art of the drama, which has fallen as low as 
it was possible to fall, people continue to attribute an elevated 
significance, unnatural to it. 

Dramatists, actors, theatrical managers, the press the 
latter most seriously publishing reports of theatres, operas, 
and so forth all feel assured that they are doing something 
very useful and important. 

The drama in our time is like a great man fallen to the 



462 TOLSTOY ON ART 

lowest stage of degradation, who yet continues to pride him- 
self on his past, of which nothing now remains. And the 
public of our time is like those who pitilessly get amusement 
out of this once great man, now descended to the lowest 
depths. 

Such is one harmful effect of the epidemic suggestion of 
the greatness of Shakespeare. Another harmful effect of 
that bepraisement is the setting up of a false model for 
men's imitation. 

If people now wrote of Shakespeare that, for his time, he 
was a great writer, he managed verse well enough, 
was a clever actor and a good stage-manager, even if their 
valuation were inexact and somewhat exaggerated, provided 
it was moderate, people of the younger generations might 
remain free from the Shakespearean influence. But when 
to every young man entering on life in our time are presented 
as models of moral perfection, not the religious and moral 
teachers of mankind, but first of all Shakespeare, about 
whom it is decided and transmitted by learned men from 
generation to generation as an irrefragible truth that he is the 
greatest of poets and the greatest of teachers of life, a young 
man cannot remain free from this harmful influence. 

On reading or hearing Shakespeare the question for a 
young man is no longer whether Shakespeare is good or bad, 
but only to discover wherein lies that extraordinary esthetic 
and ethical beauty of which he has received the suggestion 
from learned men whom he respects, but which he neither 
sees nor feels. And forcing himself, and perverting his 
esthetic and ethical feeling, he tries to make himself agree 
with the prevailing opinion. He no longer trusts himself, 
but trusts to what learned people, respected by him, have 
said (I myself have experienced all this). Reading the 
critical analyses of the plays, and the extracts from books with 
explanatory commentaries, it begins to seem to him that he 



ON SHAKESPEARE 463 

feels something like an artistic impression, and the longer 
this continues the more is his esthetic and ethical feeling 
perverted. He already ceases to discriminate independently 
and clearly between what is truly artistic, and the artificial 
imitation of art. 

But above all, having assimilated that immoral view of 
life which permeates all Shakespeare's works he loses the 
capacity to distinguish between good and evil. And the 
error of extolling an insignificant, inartistic, and not only 
non-moral but plainly immoral writer, accomplishes its per- 
nicious work. *--} 

That is why I think that the sooner people emancipate 
themselves from this false worship of Shakespeare the better 
it will be first because people when they are freed from this 
falsehood will come to understand that a drama which has 
no religious basis is not only not an important or good 
thing, as is now supposed, but is a most trivial and contemp- 
tible affair. And having understood this they will have to 
search for and work out a new form of modern drama a 
drama which will serve for the elucidation and confirmation 
in man of the highest degree of religious consciousness. 
And secondly, because people, when themselves set free from 
this hypnotic state, will understand that the insignificant and 
immoral works of Shakespeare and his imitators, aiming 
only at distracting and amusing the spectators, cannot pos- 
sibly serve to teach the meaning of life, but that, as long as 
there is no real religious drama, guidance for life must be, 
looked for from other sources. 



PART XVIII 

A TALK ON THE DRAMA. 

Reported by I. Teneromo, ca. 1907 



I recently had the opportunity of talking with Leo Tol- 
stoy about the theatre. 

"What dramas, what heartrending dramas, are being 
enacted before our eyes : national dramas, class dramas, caste 
dramas ! And the individual drama ! Has there ever been a 
time so full of terrible suffering, of mutual destruction? Only 
think what has passed before us during these last four years 
of horror! What a din of battle, what a storm of insurrec- 
tion, what shrieks of massacres with their heaps of mutilated 
bodies in the streets, in the fields, and at the bottom of the 
sea ! And now that the noise is past, how many secret execu- 
tions, secret suicides, and how much secret madness ! And in 
spite of such a plenitude of subjects the stage is impoverished. 
We have no tragedies, no moving drama, not even a healthy 
amusing repertoire, no humor . . . 

"It is as though life and the drama were made of one piece 
of dough, and if more is allotted to the one, there remains less 
for the other. The well-spring of plays for the stage has 
dried up, and there is only the dull sticky liquid of adaptations 
left at the bottom. 

"Oh, those adaptations! Of course, what will not hunger 
drive one to invent? But the idea of adaptation is a perfectly 
childish one. To take a novel, or a story, and rearrange it 
as a play is like what children do when they cut a figure out 
of a picture along the outline, stick it to a bit of cardboard, 
fix it on a stand, and are quite delighted. It stands up, there- 

464 



A TALK ON THE DRAMA 465 

fore it is a statue! A novel or a story is pictorial work: in 
it the master works with his brush, putting on dabs of paint, 
producing backgrounds, shadows, half-tones. A play is 
sculptor's work. One has to work with a chisel: not to put 
on dabs of paint but to cut out in relief. 

"I first understood the wide difference between a novel and 
a play when I sat down to write my Power of Darkness. At 
first I set to work using a novelist's usual methods, to which 
I was accustomed. But after the first few pages I found 
that they were not the right thing here. For instance, on the 
stage it is impossible to prepare for the important moments 
lived through by the hero, impossible to make him think and 
call up memories, or to throw light on his character by refer- 
ring back to the past: it all comes out dull, forced, and unreal. 
A ready- formed state of mind, ready-formed resolutions, must 
be presented to the public. Only soul-images like these 
sculptured in relief and in mutual collision agitate and 
touch the onlooker. 

"It is true I myself could not resist it, and put into The 
Power of Darkness a few monologues; but while doing so I 
felt it was not the right thing." , _ -J 

The above is taken from The Life of Tolstoy, Vol. II, by Aylmer Maude. 

c. 1917. 



PART XIX 
TWO KINDS OF MENTAL ACTIVITY 

(The following article was written by Tolstoy to serve as an introduction to a 
collection of thoughts, aphorisms, and maxims by La Bruyere, La Rochefoucauld, 
Vauvenargues, and Montesquieu, which a friend of Tolstoy's had translated into 
Russian. ) 

The activity of human reason directed to the elucidation of 
the laws that govern human life has always manifested itself 
in two different ways. Some thinkers have tried to systema- 
tize all the phenomena and laws of human life into definite 
connection with one another. Such were the originators of 
all the systems of philosophy, from Aristotle to Spinoza and 
Hegel. 

Others have helped the elucidation of the laws of human 
life not by elaborating shapely systems but by detached ob- 
servations and apt expressions indicating the eternal laws 
that rule our life. Such were the sages of the ancient world 
who formed collections of aphorisms, the Christian mystic 
writers, and especially the French writers of the XVIth, 
XVI Ith and XVIIIth centuries, who brought this style of 
writing to the highest degree of perfection. 

Such are the thoughts and maxims of La Rochefoucauld, 
La Bruyere, Pascal, Montesquieu and Vauvenargues, not to 
mention the wonderful Montaigne, whose writings partly be- 
long to this class. 

If we compare all knowledge of the laws of human life to 
a ball continually enlarged by fresh acquisitions, then thinkers 
of the first, systematic class should be likened to men who try 
to enfold the ball with more or less solid and thick stuff in 
order to enlarge it equally all over. Thinkers of the second 
category are like men who, disregarding inequalities in the 

466 



KINDS OF MENTAL ACTIVITY 467 

increase of the surface of different parts of the ball, enlarge 
it, not all over but at various points of the radii along which 
their thoughts naturally travel, generally outreaching the 
thinkers of the first kind and furnishing future systematizers 
with material to work upon. 

The advantages on the side of thinkers of the first category 
are: coherence, completeness, and symmetry in their doc- 
trines. The disadvantages are : artificiality in their structure, 
forced connection of the parts, often evident deviations from 
truth to secure coherence of the whole teaching, and (result- 
ing from this) frequent obscurity and mistiness in the manner 
of exposition. 

The advantages on the side of the second category of think- 
ers are: directness, sincerity, novelty, boldness, and, as it were, 
an impulsiveness in their thoughts, a freedom from shackles, 
and a corresponding vigour of expression. Their disadvan- 
tages are: fragmentariness and sometimes external inconsis- 
tency though this latter is usually more apparent than real. 

Their greatest advantage however is that whereas works 
of the first class philosophic systems often repel by their 
pedantry or, if they do not repel, weaken the mind of the 
reader by subduing him and depriving him of independence, 
books of the second class always attract by their sincerity, 
elegance, and brevity of expression. Above all, they do not 
crush the independent activity of the mind but, on the con- 
trary, evoke it by obliging the reader either to deduce further 
conclusions from what he has read or sometimes, when he 
quite disagrees with the author, to contest his positions and 
thus arrive at new and unexpected conclusions. 

Of this kind are the detached thoughts both of ancient and 
modern writers generally, and such are the thoughts of the 
French writers whose maxims are collected in the work be- 
fore us. 

1908, 



PART XX 

PREFACE TO N. ORLOV'S ALBUM OF 
"RUSSIAN PEASANTS" 

Tolstoy willingly called attention to pictures, as well as to stories, of which he 
approved; and he was particularly ready to do so if the artists' subject was one 
that might interest the peasants, for whom he considered that artists have done 
too little. 

Work such as Orlov's (himself of peasant origin) which, by the disapproval it 
showed of the Government's treatment of the peasants, involved risk to the artist, 
was specially calculated to attract his sympathy. 

"Be not afraid of them which kill the body, but are not able to kill 
the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and 
body." (Matt. X. 28.) 

The publication of Orlov's pictures in album form is an 
excellent thing. Orlov is my favourite artist because the 
subject of his pictures is my favourite subject the Russian 
people : the real Russian peasant-people, not that people which 
vanquished Napoleon and conquered and subdued other 
nations, not that people which unfortunately has so quickly 
learnt to make machines, railways, and revolutions as well as 
Parliaments with all conceivable sub-divisions of parties and 
tendencies, but that meek, hard-working, Christian, gentle, 
much-enduring people which has reared and bears on its 
shoulders all those who now torture and diligently corrupt it. 

And what Orlov and I love in these people is one and the 
same thing: namely, the meek, patient peasant-soul, enlight- 
ened by true Christianity, which promises so much to those 
who can understand it. 

In all Orlov's pictures I see that soul, which like the soul 
of a child retains all possibilities and above all the possibil- 

468 



ORLOV'S ALBUM 469 

ity (while avoiding the depravity of western civilization) of 
following the Christian path which alone can lead Christen- 
dom out of that enchanted circle of sufferings in which, with 
torment to themselves, men now incessantly revolve. 

Here in a smoky hut on a bed of straw lies a dying woman. 
A burning taper has, according to custom, been placed in her 
hands which are already growing cold. Near her, in solemn 
submissive calm, stands her husband; and by his side, in a 
coarse smock (her only garment), stands their eldest daugh- 
ter, a thin little girl, crying. Beside a rude cradle, hanging 
from the ceiling, the grandmother soothes a crying infant. 
Neighbours stand talking near the door. 

This picture evokes in me a wonderful and elevating feel- 
ing of tender pity and also, strange as it may seem to say so, 
a feeling of envy of that holy poverty and of the attitude 
towards it here revealed. 

The same elevating feeling of consciousness of the vast 
spiritual strength of the people to whom not by my life but 
by my race I have the good fortune to belong, is produced in 
me by two other pictures of similar character, which always 
move me profoundly The Emigrants and The Soldier's 
Return. 

Apart from the fact that the departure of the emigrants, 
who are saying good-bye to those they are leaving be- 
hind, is important in its subject-matter (showing us as it 
does in vivid images what, in spite of the difficulties placed 
in their way by the Government and the landowners, the 
Russian people are accomplishing: populating and cultivat- 
ing enormous tracts of country), this picture is rendered 
particularly touching not merely by the wonderful old man 
in the foreground, but by all the figures, full of movement 
and life, excited by the thoughts of departure or doubtful at 
being left behind. 

The Soldier's Return is a picture I am particularly 



470 TOLSTOY ON ART 

fond of. Having pined for years far from home in hard army 
service uncongenial to his soul, Pahom or Sidor, a dutiful 
son, a loving husband and a good worker, has at last struggled 
back to liberty and home. And what does he find there? 
He has already heard the news before he reached his hut. 
During his absence his Matrena has had a baby. 

This is their first meeting: the wife kneels before her hus- 
band, and the child the evidence of her fault is also there. 
The mother-in-law is egging on her son (woman's way) and 
telling how she had said, "Mind, Matrena, your husband will 
return. . . ." But the old father, still filled with that Chris- 
tian spirit of forgiveness and love by which the best repre- 
sentatives of the Russian people have lived and still live, in- 
terrupts the old woman's shrill speech and reminds them of 
that which settles all accounts and wipes out all offences and 
all anger: he reminds them of God and all reckonings are 
at an end, all tangles straightened out. 

However painful it may be to the son, however hurt he may 
feel, however he may have wished to avenge his shame on his 
wife, he is his father's son and the same divine spirit lives 
in him: the spirit of mercy, forgiveness and love; and this 
spirit so alien to the uniform he wears awakes within him, 
and he waves his hand and experiences the touching joy of 
forgiveness. "God will forgive you! Rise, Matrena, that 
will do!" 

The other six pictures are equally important and beautiful. 
I have separated these six from the three first only because, 
besides the traits common to them all, in these six are vividly 
depicted the temptations and depraving influences against 
which the Christian soul of the Russian people has to con- 
tend and does contend, and by which it has not been subdued. 

These pictures are peculiarly attractive in that they depict 
the struggle without deciding whose the victory will be. Will 
the whole people follow the path of spiritual and mental de- 




o ** 

Si 

W Eh 



ORLOV'S ALBUM 471 

pravity along which the so-called educated classes, wishing 
to make it like themselves, invite it, or will it hold to the 
Christian principles by which it has lived, and, in a vast 
majority of cases, still lives? 

(See illustration facing this page.) A picture of this kind 
is the one in which a village Elder who has come to collect 
taxes from a poor man just returned from wage- work car- 
ried on far from home is standing over the man awaiting 
an answer. Only the old father gives that answer, regardless 
of all consideration of the needs of the Government, speaking 
of God, and the sin of exploiting a worker barely able to sup- 
port his family. Very pathetic in this picture, besides the 
master of the house, are the mistress who stands by the table 
on which she has just spread a meal, from which everyone 
has been torn away, and the child who gazes perplexed and 
full of sympathy at his excited grandfather. 

Of similar kind are the remaining pictures of the series, 
which depict a struggle between good and evil in which men 
of the people, partly or completely depraved, side with evil. 

Such is the picture Arrears of Taxes, depicting the sale 
of a poor widow's cow the support of her children. A rich 
peasant money-lender is buying, and the District Elder is 
selling, the cow, while the Village Elder notes down the 
transaction. 

Similar pictures are the one, full of matter, in which a 
poor widow who lives by the illicit sale of vodka (thereby 
diminishing the State revenue) is caught in the act; and No. 
7 (see next page), which depicts the consecration of one of 
the vodka-shops which are now (1908) a Government mo- 
nopoly. This picture is specially remarkable for its tech- 
nique, for the delicacy and exactitude with which the ideas 
are expressed, and for the accuracy of its types. 

Yet another such picture is the one with the revolting theme, 
Corporal Punishment. 



472 TOLSTOY ON ART 

Besides a true portrayal of the still unperverted Russians, 
which is the chief subject of the whole series, in all these 
last six pictures, types are shown of that already depraved 
part of the nation which wishes, for its own profit, to pervert 
its still unperverted brothers. 

The Village Elder who is collecting taxes from the man 
whose payments are in arrear has not yet broken all links 
uniting him to his fellows, and evidently suffers for his fellow- 
man as well as from his own participation in the cause of that 
suffering. 

But the over-fed District Elder in the picture in which the 
cow is being taken, no longer feels any remorse at fulfilling 
his cruel duty, and the usurer buying the cow has no considera- 
tion for anything but his own profit. In the picture of the 
illicit vodka-seller, the policeman and the District Elder and 
the clerk are performing their task unbashed, and they even 
admire the cleverness of the man in disguise who has trapped 
the vodka-seller. Only the old man, a representative of the 
soul of the Russian people, disturbs the general complacency 
by his bold words. 

In the picture of The Monopoly, besides the fat publican 
grieved at the loss of his business, the peasant crossing him- 
self before the icon with evident hypocrisy is very striking, 
and so is the tattered fellow who has pushed inopportunely in 
at the door of the institution which has brought him to his 
present condition, and has so successfully corrupted and 
continues for the State's profit to corrupt a large part of 
the population. 

Again in the picture of Corporal Punishment, all those 
present, except the old man who is praying for the sins of 
men, and the little boy aghast at man's cruelty, have reached 
the point at which they can regard their shameful deeds as 
necessary duties. 

The last picture, expressing all that is said in the final six 







1 



ORLOV'S ALBUM 473 

of the series, is particularly powerful and dreadful in that it 
shows in the simplest and most comprehensible way what lies 
at the bottom of the demoralization to which the people are 
subjected, and the chief danger that faces them. 

"Go, go! God will help you!" says the girl, refusing to 
give to the beggar. "You see, his Reverence is here! " 

Yes, it is a terrible picture ! 

The strength of a nation lies in the degree of truth in 
that religious understanding of the laws of life which guides 
its actions. I say the degree of truth, for a complete under- 
standing of God is never possible to man. Man can but 
draw ever nearer and nearer to the one and the other. And 
the greatest amount of true religious understanding of life in 
our days has been and still is to be found among the illiterate, 
wise and holy Russian peasant-population. And in all kinds 
of ways : by Law Courts, taxation, conscription, and alcoholic 
poisoning for revenue's sake, they are surrounded by terrible 
temptations, and the most awful of these is the religious fraud 
which claims greater importance for the Church and its min- 
isters than for mercy and brotherly love. 

All this is presented in Orlov's pictures, and so I think that 
I am not wrong in loving them. 

These pictures show us the danger now menacing the 
spiritual life of the Russian people. And to realize a danger 
that was not noticed before is a step towards averting it. 

1908. 



APPENDIX 

DARLING 

By Anton Chekhov 

Olenka, the daughter of a retired civil servant, Plemyan- 
nikov, sat musing in her back porch. It was hot, the flies 
were pertinaciously teasing, and it was pleasant to reflect 
that it would soon be evening. Dark rain-clouds were com- 
ing up from the east and bringing with them an occasional 
whiff of moisture. 

In the middle of the courtyard Kukin, who lived in a small 
house in the same courtyard and was manager and proprietor 
of the Tivoli Gardens, stood looking at the sky. 

"Again!" he exclaimed despairingly. "It's going to rain 
again! Rain every day, every day, as though to spite me. 
One might as well hang oneself! It's ruination! Fearful 
losses every day!" 

He raised and clasped his hands in despair, and turning 
to Olenka continued: 

"There, Olenka Semenovna, that's the life we lead. It's 
enough to make one cry. One works, tries hard, wears one- 
self out, gets no sleep at night, and racks one's brains what 
to do for the best and what's the result? On the one hand 
there's the ignorant boorish public! I give them the very 
best operetta, a fairy-like masque, splendid comic singers, but 
is that what they want? Do you suppose they understand 
anything of all that? What they want is what is given in a 
booth at a fair! Trash, is what they demand! On the 
other hand, look at the weather ! Rain almost every evening. 

474 



DARLING 475 

As it started on the 10th May, so it went on the whole of May 
and June. It's simply awful! The public don't come, but 
I have to pay the rent and the artistes ! " 

Next evening the clouds again began to gather, and Kukin 
said with an hysterical laugh: 

"Well, what of it? Rain away! Let it flood the whole 
garden with me in it! Let me have no luck in this world 
or the next! Let the artistes take proceedings against me! 
What is a trial? Even if I go as a convict to Siberia! Or 
to the scaffold! Ha, ha, ha!" 

The next day it was the same again. 

Olenka listened to Kukin silently and seriously, and some- 
times tears came into her eyes. In the end Kiikin's misfor- 
tunes touched her and she came to love him. He was short 
and lean, with a sallow complexion, twists of hair were curled 
on his temples, he spoke in a thin tenor voice, and when he 
spoke his mouth twisted, and his face always expressed 
despair, but still he aroused in her a real and profound af- 
fection. She always loved someone and could not exist with- 
out it. Formerly she had loved her papa, who now sat in 
an armchair in a dark room, ill, and breathing with difficulty ; 
she loved her aunt, who sometimes once in two years came 
from Byansk ; and before that, when she was at the secondary 
school, she had loved her French master. She was a quiet, 
soft-hearted, compassionate young woman, with a mild ten- 
der look in her eyes and very good health. At the sight of 
her plump rosy cheeks, her soft white neck with a dark little 
mole on it, and the kind naive smile which appeared on her 
face when she listened to anything pleasant, men thought, 
"Yes, she's all right," and smiled too, and lady-visitors could 
not refrain from suddenly seizing her hand in the middle of 
a conversation and exclaiming with a gush of delight: "You 
darling!" 

The house in which she had lived since her birth and 



476 TOLSTOY ON ART 

which had been left her in her father's will, was on the out- 
skirts of the town in the Gipsy Suburb, not far from the 
Tivoli Gardens. In the evenings and at night she could 
hear the band playing and rockets going off with a bang in 
the Gardens, and it seemed to her that Kukin was fighting 
his fate and taking his chief foe, the indifferent public, by 
assault: her heart melted tenderly, she had no wish to sleep, 
and when he returned home towards morning she tapped 
softly at her bedroom window and, letting him see only her 
face and one shoulder through the curtains, gave him a 
friendly smile. 

He proposed, and they were married. And when he had a 
good view of her neck and her plump healthy shoulders, 
he threw up and clasped his hands and said: "Darling!" 

He was happy but, as it rained on their wedding day and 
the whole of the following night, the despairing expression 
never left his face. 

After the wedding they lived happily together. She sat in 
his booking-office, saw that the Tivoli Gardens were in order, 
entered up the accounts and paid the salaries; and her rosy 
cheeks, her sweet naive smile, shining like a halo, appeared 
now at the window of the booking-office, now behind the 
scenes, now at the refreshment-bar. And she began to tell 
her acquaintances that the theatre was the most remarkable, 
most important, and most necessary thing in the world 
that only at the theatre could one obtain true pleasure and be- 
come cultivated and humane. 

"But do you think the public understands that?" she said. 
"They want a common booth! Yesterday we put on 'Faust 
Inside Out,' and almost all the boxes were empty, but if Va- 
nichka and I were to give some common trash, believe me the 
theatre would be packed. To-morrow Vanichka and I are 
giving 'Orpheus in Hell'; mind you come!" And what Ku- 



DARLING 477 

kin said about the theatre and the actors she repeated; she 
despised the public as he did, for their indifference to art 
and their ignorance; she took part in the rehearsals, corrected 
the actors, kept an eye on the behaviour of the musicians, 
and when the local paper criticised their theatre unfavourably 
she cried, and afterwards went to the newspaper office for 
explanations. 

The actors were fond of her and called her "Vanichka and 
I," and "the Darling." She was sorry for them and used to 
lend them small sums, and if it happened that they did not 
pay her, she cried in secret, but made no complaint to her 
husband. 

And in the winter they got on quite well. They took a 
theatre in the town for the whole winter and sub-let it for 
short periods, now to an Ukrainian troupe, now to a con- 
juror, now to a local dramatic company. Olenka grew 
plumper and was all beaming with pleasure, but Kukin grew 
thinner and sallower and complained of terrible losses, though 
business had not been bad all winter. He used to cough at 
night, and she gave him raspberry or lime-blossom tea, rubbed 
him with eau-de-Cologne, and wrapped him up in her soft 
shawls. 

"What a splendid dear you are!" she said, quite sincerely, 
smoothing his hair. "What a good-looking pet you are ! " 

In Lent he went to Moscow to gather a troupe, and with- 
out him she could not sleep, but sat by the window looking at 
the stars. She compared herself, at the time, to the hens 
who keep awake all night and are restless when the cock is 
not in the hen-house. Kukin was detained in Moscow and 
wrote that he would return for Easter, and his letters al- 
ready contained arrangements about the Tivoli Gardens. 
But on the Monday in Passion Week, late in the evening, an 
ominous knock was suddenly heard at the gate ; someone was 



478 TOLSTOY ON ART 

hammering at the gate as if on a barrel: boom, boom, boom! 
The sleepy cook, splashing with her bare feet through the 
puddles, ran to open the gate. 

"Open for goodness' sake!" said someone in a thick bass 
voice. "There's a telegram for you ! " 

Olenka had received telegrams from her husband before, 
but this time for some reason she grew quite faint. She 
opened the telegram with trembling hands, and read as 
follows : 

"Ivan Kukin passed away to-day suddenly pas way await- 
ing instructions fuferal Tuesday." 

It was typed "fuferal" in the telegram, and there was also 
the incomprehensible word 'pas way.' The signature was that 
of the manager of an operatic troupe. 

"My precious!" sobbed Olenka. "Vanichka, my dearest, 
my precious. Why did I ever meet you? Why did I ever 
know and love you? Whom have I left? Why have you 
deserted your poor, unfortunate Olenka?" 

Kukin was buried on Tuesday in the Vagankov cemetery 
in Moscow. Olenka returned home on Wednesday and as 
soon as she entered her house she fell on her bed and sobbed 
so loud that she could be heard in the street and in the neigh- 
bouring houses. 

"The darling!" said the neighbours, as they crossed them- 
selves. "Darling Olga Semenovna, how she does take on!" 

Three months later Olenka was returning from Mass, mel- 
ancholy and in deep mourning. It happened that a neigh- 
bour, Vasili Andreich Puslovalov, who was also returning 
from church, walked beside her. He was manager of the 
merchant Babakaev's timber-yard. He wore a straw hat, a 
white waistcoat and a gold watch-chain, and looked more 
like a squire than a tradesman. 

"Everything has its own order, Olga Semenovna," he said 
gravely, in a tone of sympathy, "and if any one of those near 



DARLING 479 

us dies, it must be that God willed it so, and so we must not 
forget ourselves but must bear it submissively." 

Having accompanied Olenka to the gate he took his leave 
of her and went on. All day after that she seemed to hear 
his dignified voice, and whenever she closed her eyes she saw 
his dark beard. He pleased her very much. And apparently 
she had also made an impression on him, for shortly after- 
wards an elderly lady with whom she was but slightly ac- 
quainted came to drink coffee with her, and as soon as she 
was seated at the table began to talk about Pustovalov and 
say what a good and reliable man he was, whom anyone 
would be glad to marry. Three days after that, Pustovalov 
himself came to call on her; he did not stay long, not more 
than ten minutes, and did not say much, but Olenka fell in 
love with him, so much in love that as if she were in a fever 
she did not sleep all night, and in the morning she sent for 
the elderly lady. The match was soon arranged, and then 
came the wedding. 

Pustovalov and Olenka lived happily after their marriage. 
He was usually in the timber-yard till dinner and then went 
out on business, and Olenka took his place and sat in the 
office till the evening, writing out accounts and despatching 
goods. 

"Now timber rises twenty per cent in price every year," 
she said to customers and acquaintances. "Just think, we 
used to sell local timber, but now Vanichka has to go to Mogi- 
lev province every year to buy timber. And the freights!" 
she went on, covering both her cheeks with her hands in 
horror, "what freights ! " 

She felt as if she had dealt in timber quite a long time; 
that the most important and most necessary thing in life 
was timber; and there was something intimate and touching 
to her in the words: "balk, joist, pole, plank, scantling, batten, 
beam. . . ." 



480 TOLSTOY ON ART 

At night when she slept, she dreamed of whole mountains of 
planks and boards, and long unending rows of carts convey- 
ing timber to distant places beyond the town. She dreamed 
of how a whole regiment of twenty-eight foot, nine-inch beams 
was marching on end to attack the timber-yard; joists, beams 
and boards knocked against one another with a resounding 
crash of dry wood, all falling down and rising again, piling 
themselves on one another. Olenka cried out in her sleep 
and Pustovalov said tenderly: "Olenka, what's the matter, 
darling? Cross yourself!" 

Her husband's thoughts were hers too. If he thought the 
room too hot, or business slack, she thought so too. Her 
husband did not care for any entertainments and stayed at 
home on holidays, and so did she. 

"You are always at home or in the office," her acquaint- 
ances said to her. "You should go to the theatre, darling, 
or the circus." 

"Vanichka and I have no time to go to theatres," she an- 
swered sedately. "We are hard-working people and have no 
time for trifling. What good are those theatres?" 

On Saturdays Pustovalov and she went to evening service, 
on holidays to early service, and they returned from church 
side by side with a softened expression on their faces, both 
diffusing an agreeable perfume, and her silk dress rustling 
pleasantly. At home they had tea with fancy bread and dif- 
ferent kinds of jam, and then cake. Every day at noon an 
appetising smell of beet-root soup and roast mutton or duck, 
or on fast days of fish, was noticeable in their yard and in 
the street outside, and one could not pass their gate without 
beginning to feel an appetite. In the office a samovar was 
always boiling, and customers were treated to tea and biscuits. 
Once a week the couple went to the baths and returned from 
there together, both red in the face. 

"Yes, we get on all right," Olenka used to say. "Thank 



DARLING 481 

heaven! God grant everyone a life such as Vanichka's and 
mine." 

When Pustovalov went to the Mogilev province to buy tim- 
ber she was much depressed and lay awake at night, crying. 
Sometimes in the evening the regimental veterinary surgeon, 
Smirnin, who rented their lodge, used to come to see her. 
He would tell her some news, or play cards with her, and that 
distracted her a little. She was specially interested in what 
he told her of his own family life : he was married and had a 
boy, but was separated from his wife because she had been 
unfaithful to him, and now he hated her but sent her forty 
roubles a month for his son's maintenance. As she listened 
to this Olenka sighed, shook her head, and felt sorry for him. 

"Well, God be with you," she would say when he took his 
leave, and as she lighted him with a candle to the staircase. 
"Thank you for sharing my dullness. May the Queen of 
Heaven grant you good health!" 

She always expressed herself thus sedately and sagaciously, 
imitating her husband, and when the veterinary surgeon was 
already disappearing beyond the door below, she would call 
after him: 

"Do you know, Vladimir Platonych, you should make it up 
with your wife. Forgive her, if only for your son's sake! 
The little boy no doubt understands." 

And when Pustovalov returned she told him in a low voice 
about the veterinary surgeon and his unhappy family life, 
and they both sighed, shook their heads, and spoke of the 
boy who no doubt pined for his father, and then, by some 
strange sequence of ideas, they went up to the icons, bowed 
to the ground, and prayed that God would send them children. 

So the Pustovalovs lived quietly and peaceably in love and 
full accord for six years. But then one winter Pustovalov 
at the timber-yard went out without his cap, after drinking hot 
tea, to send off some timber, and caught cold and fell ill. He 



482 TOLSTOY ON ART 

was treated by the best doctors, but got worse, and died after 
four months' illness. And Olenka was again a widow. 

"Whom have I now that you have forsaken me, my pre- 
cious?" she sobbed, after she had buried her husband. "How 
am I to live without you, grief-stricken and wretched! Pity 
me, good people, utterly forlorn. ..." 

She wore a black dress with weepers, gave up hats and 
gloves for good, and hardly ever went out except to go to 
church and to her husband's grave, and at home she lived 
like a nun. It was only after six months had passed that she 
left off the weepers and opened the shutters of the windows. 
She was sometimes seen going to market with her cook to buy 
provisions, but how she now lived, and what went on in her 
house, could only be conjectured. People made conjectures, 
for instance, from seeing her drinking tea in her little garden 
with the veterinary surgeon, who read the newspaper aloud 
to her, and also from the fact that, meeting a lady she knew 
at the post-office, she had said to her: 

"There is no regular veterinary inspection in our town, 
and therefore there is much illness. One is always hearing 
of people falling ill from the milk, and being infected by cows 
and horses. The health of domestic animals should really 
be looked after as carefully as the health of human beings." 

She repeated the veterinary's thoughts and was now of his 
opinion about everything. It was clear that she could not 
live a year without some attachment and had found her new 
happiness in the lodge of her own house. 

Another would have been censured for this, but no one 
could think ill of Olenka; everything she did was so natural. 
The veterinary surgeon and she never spoke to anybody about 
the change in their relations to one another, and they tried to 
conceal it, but did not succeed in this, for Olenka could have 
no secrets. When visitors, his comrades in the service, came 
to see him, she while pouring out the tea or serving supper 



DARLING 483 

would begin to speak about cattle-plague, or bovine tuber- 
culosis and municipal slaughter-houses, while he would be- 
come dreadfully confused, and after the visitors had gone 
would seize her hand and hiss angrily: 

"Didn't I ask you not to speak of what you don't under- 
stand? When we veterinaries talk among ourselves, please 
don't join in. It's really annoying!" 

And she would look at him with amazement and agitation 
and would ask: 

"Volodichka dear, what am I to speak about?" 

And she would embrace him and with tears in her eyes 
entreat him not to be angry, and they would both be happy. 

That happiness however did not last long. The veterinary 
left with his regiment and left for good, as the regiment was 
ordered to some very distant place, perhaps to Siberia. And 
Olenka was left alone. 

She was entirely alone now. Her father had died long ago, 
and his armchair lay covered with dust and with a leg broken 
off, in the garret. She grew thinner and paler and people 
she met in the street no longer looked at her as they used to 
do; it was evident that her best years were over and left 
behind, and that a new unknown life was beginning about 
which it was better not to think. In the evenings she sat 
in her porch and could hear the music playing and the 
rockets bursting in the Tivoli Gardens, but they did not now 
awaken any thought in her. She looked indifferently at her 
empty yard, thought of nothing, wished for nothing, and 
afterwards when night came on she went to sleep, and saw in 
her dreams the empty yard. She ate and drank as if 
unwillingly. 

But the principal thing and the worst of all was that she no 
longer had any opinions whatever. She saw the objects 
around her, and understood all that took place, but could 
form no opinions and did not know what to speak about, 



484 TOLSTOY ON ART 

And how awful it is not to have any opinions! One sees, 
for instance, how a bottle is standing, or rain falling, or a 
peasant is driving his cart, but what the bottle, or rain, or 
peasant, is for, what sense there is in them, you can't say 
not even if someone gave you a thousand roubles to do so. 

While she had Kukin, Pustovalov, and afterwards the 
veterinary surgeon Olenka was able to explain everything 
and express her opinions about anything you liked; but now 
there was the same void in her mind and heart as in her 
yard. And it was harsh and bitter as wormwood in the 
mouth. 

The town was gradually expanding on all sides ; the Gipsy 
Suburb was now called a street, and where the Tivoli Gardens 
and the timber-yard had been, houses had sprung up, and 
several side streets had formed. How fast time flies! 
Olenka's house had grown dingy, the roof had rusted, the 
outhouse had a slant to one side, and the whole yard was 
overgrown with docks and stinging nettles. Olenka herself 
had grown elderly and plain ; in summer she sat in the porch, 
and her soul as before was empty, oppressed, and savoured 
of wormwood; in winter she sat at a window looking at the 
snow. When there was a scent of spring, or the wind brought 
the sound of the church bells, a flood of memories from the 
past would well up, her heart would contract with tender emo- 
tion and tears would flow freely from her eyes, but this was 
only for a moment, then again emptiness returned and she did 
not know why she lived. Bryska, her black cat, would rub 
against her softly and purr, but these feline caresses did not 
touch Olenka. Were they what she needed? She wanted 
a love that would absorb her whole being, her whole soul and 
reason, would give her ideas and a purpose in life, and would 
warm her ageing blood. And she brushed away black 
Bryska, and told her crossly: 

" Get away . . . you've no business here ! " 



DARLING 485 

And so she went on day after day, year after year, without 
a single joy, and without any opinions. Whatever Martha 
the cook said, that was right. 

Towards the evening of a very hot July day, just as the town 
herd of cows was being driven through the streets and the 
whole yard was filled with clouds of dust, someone suddenly 
knocked at the gate. Olenka went herself to open it and 
was dumbfounded by what she saw: at the gate stood the 
veterinary Smirnin, now grey-haired and in civilian dress. 
She suddenly remembered everything, could not restrain her- 
self, began crying, and let her head fall on his breast without 
saying a word, and in her great excitement did not notice how 
they both entered the house and sat down to tea. , . 

"My dearest!" she muttered, trembling with joy. "Vla- 
dimir Platonych! From where has heaven sent you?" 

"I want to settle here for good," he told her. "I have left 
the army, and want to try my luck as a free man, and to live 
a settled life. Besides it is time to send my son to the high 
school. He's a big boy. Do you know, I have made it up 
with my wife." 

"And where is she?" asked Olenka. 

"She is at the hotel with our son, and I am hunting round 
looking for a lodging." 

"Oh goodness, my dear soul, take my house! What's 
wrong with it? Oh, Lord, why, I won't charge you any- 
thing," said Olenka, excitedly, and again began to cry. "You 
live here, and the lodge will do well for me. What joy, oh, 
my goodness ! " 

Next day the roof of the house was already being painted 
and the wall whitewashed, and Olenka, her arms akimbo, 
went about the yard giving directions. The old smile beamed 
on her face and she was fresh and full of life again, as 
though she had waked up from a long sleep. The veterinary's 
wife arrived a thin, plain lady with short hair and a 



486 TOLSTOY ON ART 

peevish face, and with her came the boy, Sasha, small for his 
age (he was going on for ten), plump, with clear blue eyes 
and dimples in his cheeks. Scarcely had the boy entered 
the yard before he rushed after the cat, and his merry joyous 
laughter immediately filled the air. 

"Auntie, is this your cat?" he asked Olenka. "When she 
pups let me have a kitten. Mama is awfully afraid of mice." 

Olenka talked to him, gave him tea, and her heart suddenly 
grew warm and contracted tenderly, just as if he were her 
own son. And in the evening, when he sat down in her din- 
ing-room and prepared his lessons, she looked at him with 
emotion and pity and whispered: 

"My pretty one, my precious . . . , my little child! 
Fancy your being born so clever and so fair ! " 

"An island is a portion of dry land surrounded on all sides 
by water," he read. 

"An island is a portion of dry land ..." she repeated, 
and that was the first opinion she expressed with conviction 
after so many years of silence and absence of thought. 

And she already had opinions of her own, and at supper 
she spoke to Sasha's parents of how difficult it was for chil- 
dren nowadays to learn in the high-schools, but that a classical 
high-school education was, all the same, better than a com- 
mercial one, as after finishing at the high-school all careers 
were open to you, whether you wished to be a doctor or an 
engineer. 

Sasha began going to the high-school. His mother went 
to stay with her sister in Kharkov, and did not return; his 
father went away somewhere every day to inspect herds of 
cattle, and would sometimes be away from home for three 
days at a time; it seemed to Olenka that they had quite 
abandoned Sasha, that he was not wanted at home, that he 
was being starved, and she took him to her lodge and ar- 
ranged a little room there for him. 



DARLING 487 

Half-a-year has already passed now since Sasha came to 
live in her lodge. Every morning Olenka comes into his 
room; he is fast asleep with his hand under his cheek, 
scarcely breathing. She is sorry to wake him. 

"Sashenka," she would say sadly, "get up, dear! Time to 
go to school." 

He gets up, dresses, says his prayers, and then sits down 
to breakfast. He drinks three tumblers of tea and eats two 
big plain cakes and half a French roll with butter. He is not 
quite awake yet, and therefore not in a good temper. 

"But, Sashenka, you did not quite learn your fable," 
Olenka says, gazing at him as if she was seeing him off on a 
long journey. "I am troubled about you. You must take 
pains to learn, dearest . . . and obey your masters." 

"Oh, do leave me alone!" says Sasha. 

When he goes along the street to school, himself small but 
wearing a big cap and with a satchel on his back, Olenka 
follows him noiselessly. 

"Sashenka!" she calls. 

He turns round and she slips a date or a caramel into his 
hand. When they turn into the side street where the school 
stands he feels ashamed of being followed by a tall, stout 
woman; he looks round and says: 

"You go home, auntie; I can go on alone now." 

She stops, and follows him with her eyes fixedly until he 
disappears into the school doorway. Oh, how she loves him ! 
Not one of her former attachments had been so deep, never 
before had her soul surrendered itself so freely, so disinter- 
estedly, and so joyously, as it did now when the maternal 
feelings grew more and more ardent within her. For this 
boy, who was not hers, for the dimples in his cheeks, for his 
peaked cap, she would have laid down her life, given it gladly 
and with tears of emotion. Why? Who can tell why? 

Having seen Sasha to school she returns home quietly, so 



488 TOLSTOY ON ART 

content, serene, and full of love. Her face, which has grown 
younger-looking during the last half-year, is smiling and 
radiant, those she meets look at her with pleasure, and say: 

"Good morning, Olga Semenovna, darling! How are you, 
darling?" 

"The work at the high-school is very difficult nowadays," 
she relates when she goes marketing. "It's no joke, in the 
first class yesterday they had a fable to learn by heart, a 
Latin translation, and a sum as well. . . . How is a little 
fellow to do it all?" 

And she begins talking about teachers, lessons, and the 
lesson-books, saying just what Sasha says about them. 

After two o'clock they dine together, and in the evening 
they do Sasha's home work and cry together. When tucking 
him up in bed, she spends a long time making the sign of the 
cross over him and whispering a prayer; then, when she goes 
to bed, she dreams of the dim and distant future when Sasha, 
having finished the course and become a doctor or an en- 
gineer, will have a big house of his own with a carriage and 
horses, and will marry, and children will be borne to 
him. . . . She falls asleep still thinking of the same thing, 
and the tears roll down her cheeks from under her closed eye- 
lids. The black cat lies at her side and purrs. "Prr . . . 
prr . . . prr ..." 

Suddenly there is a loud knock at the gate. Olenka wakes 
up breathless with fear, and her heart beats violently. Haif- 
a-minute passes and the knocking is repeated. 

"It's a telegram from Kharkov," she thinks, beginning to 
tremble all over. "His mother demands that Sasha should 
be sent to her in Kharkov. . . . Oh, God!" 

She is in despair. Her head, her feet and hands, grow 
cold; there is nobody in the world more unhappy than she. 
But another minute passes, voices are heard: it is the veteri- 
nary surgeon returning from the club. 



DARLING 489 

"Well, thank God! " she thinks. 

The weight is gradually lifted from her heart, and it feels 
light again. She lies down and thinks about Sasha, who is 
fast asleep in the next room and sometimes mutters in his 
dream: 

"111 give it you ! Be off ! Don't fight ! " 



THE END 



INDEX 

Academy, Royal, of 1897, 271. 

Albert, a story by Tolstoy, 8 

Alison, Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste, 157-8 

American publications, 385 

Amiel's Journal, 18, 38-42 

Andre, Pere, Essai sur le Beau, 146 

" Animal of unspoilt scent," 268 

Appraisement of feelings made by religious perception, 278 

Approval, a matter of degree, 113 

Aristotle, 141, 184 

Arnold, Matthew, The Function of Criticism, 382 

Art 

artisans of, 237 

basis of action of, 171 

blind alley, 313 

" can evoke reverence for the dignity of every man," 332 

canon of, 164 

Christian, 285, 288, 293-4 

a. Religious, 296 

b. Universal, 296, 333 

of Church Christianity, 179 

" comprehensible to men less educated than our labourers," 226 

content of, 85 

definition of, 80-1, 171, 173, 362-3 

experimental, 169 

physiological evolutionary, 169, 170 

metaphysical, 169, 170 
destiny of, 333 

dramatic form, qualifications needed to produce in, 239 
effect on children, 198 
empty and vicious, 283 
essence of, 237 
essential organ, 298 
for art's sake, 77, 87 

for enjoyment, first esteemed by whom, 182 
future, 313, 318, 320, 368 
good of two kinds, 286 
impoverishment of subject-matter of, 199 

491 



492 INDEX 

Art (continued) 

indestructible spiritual organ, 309 

indispensable means of communication, 175 

infection by, 171 

influence of, 287 

limited sphere of our, 193 

means of intercourse, 170 

means of union, 173 

and Science : the difference, 225 

of Middle Ages, 179-81 

neo-esthetic theories of, 170 

organ of human progress, 297 

organ transmitting man's reasonable perceptions into feelings, 331 

patriotic, 285 

productions that were " a temporary pastime," 195 

prostitute of our circle, 311 

realistic, 87 

recognized by early Christians, 178 

should cause violence to be set aside, 331 

simple feelings, 318 

subject matter of, 197, 287 

task to make feeling of brotherhood customary, 332 

tendencious, 87 

vehicle to draw men towards perfection, 320 

which has left no trace, 166 

" will lay in the souls of men the rails along which their actions will naturally 
pass," 333 

will be an organ co-equally important with science for the life of mankind, 331 
Artist of the future, 318, 368 
Artistic impression, when produced, 231 

productions that are " as unintelligible as Sanscrit," 194 

sects exclude one another, 130 

Bach, J. S., 269, 292 

Ballet-dancers receive more honour than the Saints, 301 

Barge with kedge-anchors, 322 

Bastien- Lepage, 310 

Batteux, 146 

Baudelaire, P. C, 207-214, 334-6 

Duellum, 208, 334-5 

Fleur du mal, 207, 302, 334 

La Soupe et les nuages, 209, 335-6 

Le Galant Tireur, 210, 336 



INDEX 493 

Baudelaire (continued) 

L'etranger, 209, 335 

Petits poemes en prose, 204, 335 
Baumgarten, A. G., 143, 187-8 
Bayreuth, performances at, 260, 262 
Bazin, Ren, La Terre qui meurt, 380 
Beauty, 83-5, 143, 148-163, 166-8, 182, 186-7, 189-90, 196, 293, 303, 361, 369 

definition of, 163-4 

furnishes no criterion of art, 112 

is " that which pleases," 163 

Truth and Goodness, 143-7, 156, 189-90 
Beecher-Stowe, Harriet, Uncle Tom's Cabin, 373 
Beethoven, L. von, 14, 245-6, 292 

Ninth Symphony, 294-5 

Opus 101, 269 
Benards, V esthetique d'Aristote, 142, 185, 187 
Bergmann, J., Ueber das Schone, 154 
Boccaccio, 201 

Bodkin Art Gallery (Moscow), 92 
Booby Trap, 17, 18 
Books for the people, 6 
Brandes, Georges, 396, 444 
Brevity, clearness and simplicity, 314, 320 
Bryulov, K. P., " Art begins where the wee bit begins," 247 
Burke, Edmund : The Sublime and Beautiful, 146 
Buttnerbauer, Der, by W. von Polenz, 18, 378-87 
Byron, 201 

Caine, Hall, The Christian, 384-5 
Caricatures, 293 
Cathedral of Victory, 284 
Cause of it All, The, by Tolstoy, 7 
Cervantes, Don Quixote, 290 
Chamber music, 294 
Chekhov, A. P., 18-19 

Darling, 18, 388-92, 474-89. 
Cherbuliez, C. V., 156 
Children perverted in service of art, 298 
Choir of peasant women, 268 
Chopin, F. F., 269 

Nocturne in E flat major, 292 
Christianity, a turning point, 284 
Christ, the teaching of, 308 



494 INDEX 

Church music and ritual, 91 

Classification (usually accepted) of writers is harmful, 386 

Cloudy conceptions " usually presented with aplomb," 137, 361 

Coins that " resemble real money," 234 

Cold-drawn works of art, 238 

Comte, Auguste, 450-1 

Condemnation of new art unjust, 222 

Conditions of production of art, 238 

counterfeit art, 237-40 

tragedy, 420 
Cone of art, the, 228 
Confession , Tolstoy's, 8-12 

Confusion of religious cult with religious perception, 280 
Corruption of class nourished by false art, 192 
Coster, G. H. de, 156 
Counterfeits of art, how manufactured, 237-240 

caused by : 

a) Professionalism \ 

b) Art Criticism \ 241-6 

c) Schools of Art j 
Cousin, Victor, 154 
Criticism, 382, 386-7 

great importance of, 387 
Critics, 242 
Crosby, Ernest H., Shakespeare on the Working Classes, 393 

Dancer, 248 

Dante, 296 

Darling, by A. P. Chekhov, 18, 388-92, 474-89- 

Darwin, Charles, 169, 450-1 

Descent of Man, 158 

Erasmus, 158 
Dealers in the temple of art, 316 
Decadent art, 233 

Decadents, 207, 214, 217, 221-2, 228 
Definition of art, 80-81, 171, 173, 362-3 

needed, of art, 133 

of any human activity, 166 
Diamonds differ from paste, 267 

selecting by touch, 455 
Dickens, Charles, 7, 288, 310, 385 

Christmas Carol, 7, 107 

David Copperfield, 290 



INDEX 495 

Dickens, Charles (continued) 

Pickwick Papers, 290 
Diderot, D., 146 
Dostoevski, F. M., 288-9, 310 

Memoirs from the House of Death, 289 
Doumic, Rene, Les Jeunes, 201, 206-7 
Dragon, the, in Siegfried, 257-8 
Drama, 219, 232, 247, 452-5 

physiological effects in, 235 
Dreyfus affair, 449-450 
Druzhinin, A. V., 46 
Durand-Ruel, art gallery, 218 

Elementary Schools, 314-5 
Eliot, George, 385 
Adam Bede, 289 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 385 
Erections of lies obstruct study of life, 324 
Essays and Letters, Tolstoy's, 8 
Essence of art : " that simple feeling compelling us to mingle souls with another," 

273 
Esthetic theory, the, of indifference of art to good or evil, 456-7, 460 
Euphuism, 203, 438 
Exclusive art, 365 

Fairy-tale, lullaby, riddle, jest, or sketch, 318 

Falstaff, 431-2 

Fashionable art depends on the slavery of the masses, 194 

Feelings, the highest, 367 

conveyed, quality of feelings, 107 

simple, 362 

three, the subject-matter of upper-class art, 200 
Fichte, J. G., 148-9 
First Distiller, The, by Tolstoy, 7 
Folgeldt, on art, 165 
Folk-art and children's art, 7, 318 
Food, 223-4, 369 

for body and mind, 93 

question, the, 166-7 
Form of art, 364-5 

Fourier, F. M. C, phalansteries, 450-1 
Francis of Assisi, 181, 183 
French drama, 454 



496 INDEX 

Gsirshin, V. M., 46 

Gauthier, Theophile, 204 

Gay, N. N., The Last Supper, 17, 29-32 

What is Truth ? 36-7 

Judgment , 289 
Genesis, " the epic of," 224 
George, Henry, 104 
Gerome, Leon, Pollice Verso, 290 
Gervinus, Dr. G. G., 438-444 
Gevaert, Fierens, Essay sur I'art contemporain, 157 
Goethe, J. W., 296, 455, 458, 461 

Wilhelm Meister, 165 

Faust, 234 
Goncharov, I. A., 199 
" Good art pleases everyone," 224 
Gospel parables, 224, 226 

Gourmont, Remy de, Les Chevaux de Diomtde, 202 
Grant Allen, 169 

Physiological ^Esthetics, 159 
Greeks, ancient, 184, 187, 279-80, 367 

a small, semi-savage, slaveholding people, 188 
Grot, Professor, 117, 118 
Guyau, Les ProbUmes de Vesthetique contemporaine, 136, 156 

Habituation to bad art, 224, 366 
Hallam, Henry, 395 
Hamlet, 272, 394. 432-5, 444 

lack of character, 432-4 
Harsnet, Dr. Samuel, 409 
Hartmann, Edward von, 153 
Hauptmann, G., Hanneles Himmelfaht, 235 

Die versunkene Glocke, 220 
Hauser, Kaspar, 174 
Hazlitt, William, 395 
Hebrew art, 280 

prophets, 198, 203 
Hegel, G. W. F., 150-1, 450-1 
Heine, Heinrich, 201 
Helmholz, H. von, 154 
Hemsterhuis, Frans, 147 
Herbart, J. F., 152 
Herder, J. G. von, 144 
Hero, with hat a la Guillaume Tell, 230, 257 



INDEX 497 

Home, Henry (Lord Karnes), 146 
Homer, 102, 198, 4389 

Iliad and Odyssey, 226 

and Shakespeare, 438 
How to Read the Gospels, 376 
Hugo, Victor, 50, 310, 288, 396 

Les Miserables, 50, 310, 396 

Les Pauvres Gens, 288 
Human life filled with art, 363 
Humboldt, W., 148 
^^Jluijjgirian csdrdds, 269 
Huret, Jules, 206" 

Hutcheson, Francis, Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, 145 
Huysmans, J. K., Ld-Bas, 221 
Hypnotic and epidemic suggestions, 263, 448-51, 453-9 

Ibsen, Henrik : The Master Builder and Little Eyolf, 219-220 
Imitation art, methods of producing : 

a. Borrowing \ 

b. Imitating 

a ^ 230-6, 261 

c. Action on nerves 

d. Interesting 

Important what feelings spread, 366-7 
Impressionist and Neo-impressionist art, 218-9 
Infectiousnesss of art, 364-8 

Injurious effect of security and luxury on artist, 316 
Internal test of art, 365 

Japanese art, 365 

Jest, riddle, fairy-tale, lullaby, or sketch, 318 

Johnson, Dr. Samuel, 395 

Joseph, the story of, 225, 290 

Jouffroy, T. S., 154-5 

Jungmann, J., 154 

Kant, I., 145, 147-8 
Karr, Alphonse, 220 

Ker, W. P., Essay on the Philosophy of Art, 159 
King Lear, 394 et seq. 

King Leir, superior to Shakespeare's King Lear, 424-429 
Kipling, Rudyard, 221, 270, 385 
Kirchmann, Julius von, 153-4 

Knight, Wm., Philosophy of the Beautiful, 159-160, 185 
R., An Analytical Enquiry into the Principles of Taste, 158 



498 INDEX 

Kralik, R., Weltschdnheit, 134-6, 140 

Kramskoy, I. N., 289 

Krause, K. C. F., 150 

Krasota (Russian word) how used, 138 

Kreutzer Sonata, 14-16 

Labour, enormous, expended on art, 125 et seq. 

La Bruyere, Jean de, 466 

Lachelier, J., 155 

Langley, W., 272, 289 

Language of art understood by all, 225 

La Rochefoucauld, F., Due de, 466 

Latin grammar, 299 

Lear's inappropriate talk with fool, 401 

unnatural credulity and distrust, 399, 420 

verbose absurdities, 405-6 
Leopardi, J., 201 
Lepage, Bastien, 310 
Lermontov, M. Yu., 384 
Lessing, G. E., 144 
Levgque, C, 138, 140, 154-5 
Lhermitte, Leon, 310 
Life, understanding of, 176 
Loss of capacity to be infected by art, 298 
Lowell, J. R., 385 
Lucent , by Tolstoy, 8 

Lullaby, fairy-tale, riddle, jest, or sketch, 318 
Lyric poetry, 251-2 

Macbeth, 394 
Maeterlinck, Maurice, 214 

Les Aveiigles, 220 
Mallarme\ S., 205-6, 214-5 

Devagations, 215 
Malthus, T. R., 188 

" Man sieht die Absicht und man wird verstimmt," 422 
Marcus Aurelius, 66 
Marx, Karl, 188 
Materialism, 109 
Maupassant, Guy de, 17, 46-71, 290 

Bel-ami, 52, 54, 55, 57, 59, 64 

Fort comme le mort, 55-8 

Histoire d'une fille deferme, 48, 50 



INDEX 499 

Maupassant, Guy de (continned) 

Horla, 67 

La Femme de Paul, 48, 50 

La Maison Tellier, 46 

La Petite Roque, 66 

Uarmoire, 66 

Le champ d'oliviers, 66 

Le papa de Simon, 50 

L'ermite, 66 

Miss Harriet, 66 

Monsieur Parent, 66 

Mont Oriol, 54-5, 58 

Notre cceur, 55-6, 58, 65 

Pierre etjean, 55, 58, 60 

Solitude, 67 

Sur I'eau, 50, 66 

Un cas de divorce, 66 

Une vie, 50-2, 54, 57, 64 

C/ne />arft rfc campagne, 48, 50 

Ywe, 58-9, 65 
Mayer, von Liesen, Signing the Death Warrant, 289 
Melody, 291-2 

Men seldom recognise truth that exposes falsity of their pet beliefs, 265 
Mendelssohn, 144 
Middle Ages, 86, 198 
Millet, Jean Francois, 310 

The Man with a Hoe, 289 
Mithalter, Julius, Ratsel des Schonen, 137 
Moliere, 290 

Montaigne, M. E. de, 466 

Montesquieu, C. de S., Baron de la Breda, et de, 466 
Montesquiou-Fezensac, le comte Robert de, 207, 217, 350-2 
Moralities (plays), 452 

Morality regarded as " an antiquated affair," 303 
Morality and art, 364, 371-2 
Morel, E., Terre Promise, 221 
Morris, William, 94-6 
Moscow, performance of Siegfried, 253-60 
Mozart, W. A. C, 269, 292 

Magic Flute, 250 
Miiller, Adam, 149 
Muratori, L. A., 147 
Music, 6, 13, 14-16, 17, 220, 232-3, 235-6, 245, 247-8, 291-2, 294-5 



500 INDEX 

Musical art, qualifications needed to produce, 239 

Muther, Richard, The History of Art in the Nineteenth Century, 165 

Mysteries (plays), 452 

Mysticism, 109 

Mythological allusions, 203 

Nadson, S. Ya., 385 

Natasha Rostova (in War and Peace), 8 

Negro melodies, 102 

Nekrasov, N. A., 385 

Nicholas Rostov, (in War and Peace), 8, 16 

Nietzsche, F. W., 206, 303, 385, 451 

Obscurity in art esteemed, 203-4 
On Art, 75-90 

" One touch of nature," 362 
Opera, rehearsal of an, 125-9 

Siegfried, 253-60 
Orators, 362, 370-1 
Ornaments, 293 
Ostrovski, A. N., 461 

Minin, 244 
Othello, 429-31 

powerful movement of feeling in, 430 

Pagano, F. M. S. A. C. P., 147 
Painting, 232, 244, 292 

and sculpture, qualifications necessary to produce, 239, 293 
Paris exhibitions, 218 
Parnassians, 205-6, 213 
Pascal, Blaise, 40, 190, 466 

Pastime for the idle crowd of rich, some art merely a, 366 
Patti, Adelina, 302 
Peasant art, 277 

labourers, 105 
Peladan, Josephin, 157, 207 
Perplexity of plain folk, 300 
Peter of Chelczic, 183 
Petersburg, 9 
Pleasure of art, 82 
Pickwick Papers, The, 435 
Pictet, Adolph, 155 
Pierre Loiiys, Aphrodite, 202 



INDEX 501 

Pilate, Pontius, 36-7 

Pilo, Mario, La Psychologie du Beau et de I'Art, 156-7 

Pissaro, Camille, 218 

Plato, 92, 141, 183-7 

The Republic, 175, 307 
Poems, qualifications needed to write, 238 
Poetic, " means borrowed," 234 

subjects, 261 
Polenz, W. von, Der Bilttnerbauer , 18, 378 et seq. 
Popularity, 103 

Pozdnyshev (in The Kreutzer Sonata), 12-15 
Predetermination (an author's) evokes distrust, 259 
Prevost, Marcel, 201 
Printed matter a vast obstacle to enlightenment, 383 

the necessity of, 73 
Printing, 383 
Purpose of art, the, 278 
Pushkin, 301-2, 384, 461 

Tales, 290, 384, 461 

Boris Godunov, 244 

Evgeni Onegin, 244 

The Gipsies, 244 
Puvis de Chavannes, P. C, 218 

Qualities, Three of works of art 

a) Content 'j 

b) Beauty l 445-6 

c) Sincerity J 

Ragnar Redbeard, 303 

Raphael, 296 

Ravaisson, F., La Philosophie en France, 155 

Realism in art, 77-8, 234 

Re-appraisement of knowledge needed, 330 

Reformers' objection to art, 91 

Reid, Thomas, 157 

Religion and Morality, by Tolstoy, 375 

Religious art, 310 

Religious perception, 108, 176-8, 197-200, 278, 281-5, 310, 317, 322, 367, 372, 374-5 

lack of, 182 

the consciousness of the brotherhood of man, 331 
Renaissance, The, 182, 200, 282, 453, 460 



502 INDEX 

Renan, Ernest, Marc Aurkle, 61, 62, 134 

L'Abbesse de Jouarre, 62 
Resurrection, by Tolstoy, 111 
Riddle, fairy-tale, lullaby, jest, or sketch, 318 
Rider Haggard, 385 
Romanticists, 221 
Romeo and Juliet, 394 
Rossi, Ernesto, 272 
Royal Academy of 1897, 271 
Ruge, Arnold, 151 
Ruskin, John, 94-5, 378 
Russian poetry, 384 

St. Anthony, The Temptation of, 271 
Sand, George, 49, 450-1 

La petite Fadette, 49 

La mere awe diables, 49 
Schasler, M., Kritische Geschichte der Aesthetik, 140-1, 186-7 
Schelling, F. W. J., 149, 150 
Schiller, J. C. F. von, 148, 169, 288, 295 
Schlegel, F., 149 

Schnaase, Karl, Geschichte der bildenden Kiinste, 153 
Schopenhauer, A., 153, 246 
Science, 30, 321-29 

and art closely united, 322 

for science's sake, 324 

inventions in natural, 324 

of esthetics has failed, The, 361 

purpose of real and pretended, 325-6 
Sexual relations, 305 
Shaftesbury, A. A. C, third Earl of, 145 
Sketch, fairy-tale, lullaby, riddle, jest, 318 
Shakespeare, William, 18, 19, 393 463 

devoid of sense of proportion, 437 

his apt use of gestures, 435 

his characters are borrowed from earlier works, 424 
do not accord with their period or place, 421 
lack individuality of language, 422 
talk as real people never could talk, 423 

his delineation of character, 422 

effect on the young of laudation of Shakespeare, 462-3 

his exaggeration, 438 

his fame : first cause of, 456 



INDEX 503 

Shakespeare (continued) 

King Lear, 394-429, 436-7 

Albany 's unnatural speech, 410 

Edgar and Kent not recognized by people who knew them well, 406 

Gloucester's unnatural credulity, 400, 403, 412 

his Kings, 399, 423 

his masterly development of scenes, 455 

movement of feeling powerfully expressed by, 435 
not an artist, 438 

his patriotism, 445 

his practical mastery of stage-craft, 19 

Romeo and Juliet, 165 

" The end justifies the means," 445 

Thoughts arising from sound of words, 409 
Shaw, Bernard, 17 
Shelley, P. B., 395 

" Sick send the hale to bed, the," 227 
Simple direct artistic impression, 455 
Sincerity in Art, 84-5 
Socrates, 141, 184, 186, 190 
Solger, K. W. F., Vorlesungen uber Msthetik, 150 
Spaletti, Saggio sopra la bellessa, 147 
Spectrum Analysis of Milky Way, lecture on, 318 
Speech, 170, i73"4> 224, 297 
Spencer, Herbert, 158, 169 
Spiritual Censor (Russian), 119 
Spiritualists, 262 
Stead, W. T., 7 
Stenka Razin, 304 
Story of an Easter Cake, 270 
Story or novel, qualifications needed to write, 238 
Subject, and subject-matter, 369 
Subject-matter of art, 364 
Sue, Eugene, 450-1 

Sully, James, Sensation and Intuition, 160, 169, 170 
Sulzer, George, 144 

" Supremacy of Artistic Element in Literature," 4 
Swinburne, A. C, 396 
Symbolic pictures, 294 
Symbolists, 207, 218, 219 

Taglioni, Maria, 302 
Taine, Henri, 156 



504 INDEX 

Tasso, Torquato, Jerusalem Delivered, 296 

Tatiana Lvovna (Mme. Sukhotin), 218 

" Tendencious art," 77 

Test of great philosophy, 369 

Thackeray, W. M., 385 

Three religions, 375 

" To be or not to be," 433 

Todhunter, John, Theory of the Beautiful, 158-9 

Tolstoy's final conclusions on art, 377 

fitness to deal with the problem, 97, 98, 373 

lecture on literature, 4 

view of life, 367 
Tolstoy, Alexey, 385, 461 

Tsar Boris, 244 
Truth, 190 
Turgenev, K. S., The Quail, 271 

A Sportsman's Notebook, 199 
Twenty-three Tales, by Tolstoy, 7, 8 
" Two live leaves cannot be exactly alike," 251 
Tyuchev, Th. I., 384 

Uncle Tom's Cabin, 288, 373 

" Understand the error we are involved in," 307 

Understood by men less educated than our labourers, ait was, 226, 365 

Unintelligible art, 223 

Union with men of the past and the future, through art, 287 

Universal art, 106, 229, 310, 365 

Vasnetsov, V. M., 271 

Vauvenargues, Marquis de, 466 

Vedas, hymns of the, 226 

Verbal art, 232 

Verlaine, Paul, 207, 210-4, 302, 33-7 

Ariettes oubliees, 211, 212 

La Sagesse, 212, 213 
Veron, Uesthetique, 157, 169, 170 
Versifiers, with broken tongues, 253 

Villiers de l'Isle Adam, Contes Cruels, V Annonciateur , 221 
View of life, 9 

View of life unconsciously permeating artistic work, 457 
Vischer, Theodor, 152 
Vogue, C. J. M. Marquis de, 394 
Vogul play, 272 



INDEX 505 



Voltaire, F. M. A. de, 147, 227 

Wagner, Richard, 206, 233, 250-64 

" a limited self-opinionated German of bad taste," 259 

explanation of his success, 260-262 

his great ability, 261 

his " model work of counterfeit art," 253 
Walkley, A. B., 18 
Walter, Geschicht der /Esthetik im Alter turn, 142 

on Plato, 187 
War and Peace, 8, 16 
Weisse, C. H., 151 
Welfare lies in union, 309 
What is Art, 1, 91-377 

premature publication of in Paris, 3 
What Then Must We Do? 12 
Whittier, J. G., 385 
Wilde, Oscar, 303 
Winckelmann, J. J., 144 
Wolf, encounter with a, 172 

Yakutsk ornaments, 293 
Yasnaya Polyana, 4, 21 
Yawning, 171 

Zola, mile, 270 
La Terre, 49 



Concerning the Proposed Centenary Edition 
of Tolstoy's Works 

In February 1922, Mr. Bernard Shaw addressed the following letter to 
the Press and it appeared in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Manchester 
Guardian and many other papers, receiving, then and subsequently, 
the endorsement of the numerous distinguished people, here and in 
America, whose signatures are appended. 

10 Adelphi Terrace, 

W.C.2. 

28 February 1922. 
Sir, 

We desire to call public attention, especially in circles interested in literature 
and in general cultural questions, to the lack of a complete edition of the works of 
Leo Tolstoy in the English language. Unfortunately the means adopted by Tolstoy 
to secure the widest possible circulation for his books had just the opposite effect. 
He invited all publishers in all countries to take the fullest advantage of the absence 
of international copyright between Russia and other countries by publishing his 
writings in such translations as they could procure without any reference to his 
moral or legal rights. In the case of any less famous author this step would have 
prevented his works being translated at all, as it is practically impossible to engage 
modern capital in publishing, or any other enterprise, without property rights. In 
Tolstoy's case it led to the appearance of a great number of translations, including 
some very incompetent ones, of a few of his books which were considered specially 
interesting as stories, or were capable of being turned to account for propaganda. 
These few books have consequently become more or less well known ; but the 
profits of their publication have been so divided that they have in no instance been 
able to carry a complete edition on their backs. Accordingly, no complete edition has 
yet appeared ; and the one projected for the Tolstoy Centenary of 1928 by the 
Oxford University Press, translated by Aylmer Maude, whose competence and 
acceptance by Tolstoy himself are unquestionable, may prove commercially im- 
possible unless the public, by spontaneously giving it the privileges of a copyright 
edition, both by subscribing for complete sets and specifying this edition in their 
purchases of separate volumes, makes up for the absence of legal rights and for the 
miscarriage of Tolstoy's public-spirited intention in the matter. 

The Oxford Press translation will be complete and unique, and certain to remain 
so, as it is not now possible for any new English writer to bring to a translation of 
Tolstoy's works the personal knowledge of the author, and the peculiar experience 
of Russian life and of the Tolstoyan social experiments that followed the first 
publication of his writings, enjoyed by Mr. Aylmer Maude and his wife and col- 
laborator, who is a native of Russia. We feel that its failure to appear would be a 
grave loss to our national literary equipment ; and we earnestly hope that the 
opportunity of completing the nineteenth-century bookshelf both of our public and 
private libraries by a complete edition of his works in English will not be missed. 

Yours truly, 

G. Bernard Shaw. 



LIST OF SIGNATORIES TO SHAW'S LETTER. 

Henry Ainley (Fedya of Reparation) 

Meggie Albanesi (Alexandra of Reparation) 

Rev. Cyril Alington, D.D., Head Master of Eton 

William Archer 

Lena Ash well (Katusha of Resurrection) 

J. F. Baddeley 

John Bailey 

Hon. Maurice Baring, O.B.E. 

Dr. Ernest Barker, Principal, King's College 

Sir Alfred Bateman, K.C.M.G. 

H. Wansey Bayly, M.R.C.S. 

Ian Hay Beith, C.B.E. 

Marie Belloc-Lowndes 

Arnold Bennett 

J. D. Beresford 

Rt. Hon. Sir Geo. W. Buchanan, P.C., G.C.B., C.V.O., formerly Ambassador, 

Petrograd 
Rt. Hon. Lord Carnock, P.C., G.C.B., K.C.V.O., formerly Ambassador, Petro- 
grad 
Sir Hall Caine, K.B.E. 
Edward Carpenter 

Clementine S. Churchill (Mrs. Winston Churchill) 
A. Clutton Brock, BA. 

W. L. Courtney, L.L.D., Editor of Fortnightly Review 
A. Emil Davies, L.C.C. 
H. Walford Davies, F.R.C.O. 

Brig.-Gen. Guy Payan Dawnay, C.M.G., M.V.O., D.S.O. 
James Douglas, Editor of Sunday Express 
J. D. Duff, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, LL.D. 

Havelock Ellis, L.S.H. 

Nevill Forbes, Ph.D., Reader in Russian, Oxford 

J. L. Garvin, Editor of Observer 

G. P. Gooch, D.Litt. 

L. Haden Guest, M.R.C.S., M.P. 

Cicely Hamilton 
Austin Harrison 

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins 

John H. Hobson, M.A. 

Silas K. Hocking 

E. A. Brayley Hodgetts, Chairman of Russian Section, London Chamber of 
Commerce 

Sonia E. Howe, Authoress of A Thousand Years of Russian History 

W. W. Jacobs 

Edgar Jepson, B.A. 

Jerome K. Jerome 

Henry Arthur Jones 

Commander Oliver Locker- Lampson, C.M.G., D.S.O. , M.P. 

Sir Oliver Lodge, F.R.S., D.Sc. 

Lady Constance Lytton 

Sir Lynden Macassey 

Justin Huntly M'Carthy 

Miles Malleson 

Hugh Macnaughten, Vice-Provost of Eton 

W. Somerset Maugham, M.R.C.S. 

Dorothy Massingham 

H. W. Massingham 

Cyril Maude 

W. B. Maxwell 

P. E. Meadon 



Baron A. Meyendorff 

Eustace Miles, M .A. 

Gilbert Murray, D.Litt., Regius Professor, Oxford 

Cathleen Nesbitt 

Henry W. Nevinson 

Sir Sidney Olivier 

Sir Bernard Pares, K.C.B., Professor of Russian History, University of London 

Rt. Hon. Sir Gilbert Parker, P.C., D.S.L. 

Geo. Pas ton 

Edw. R. Pease 

John Pollock, MA. 

H. Hesketh Prichard, D.S.O. 

Sir Henry Penson, K.B.E. 

Arthur Rackham 

Rt. Hon. Lady Rhondda 

Rt. Hon. G. H. Roberts, J.P. 

Sir E. Denison Ross, Ph.D. 

Hon. Bertrand Russell, F.R.S. 

St. John Ervine 

May Sinclair 

Rt. Hon. Lady Sybil Smith 

A. B. Stodart, Hon. Sec. British Russia Club 

Marie C. Stopes, D.Sc, Ph.D. 

Lord Treowen, C.M.G. 

Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, F.R.G.S. 

Leslie Urquhart 

Sir Paul Vinogradoff, Professor of Jurisprudence, Oxford 

Graham Wallas 

A. B. Walkley, F.R.S.L., Dramatic Critic of The Times 

Hugh Walpole 

Lt.-Col. John Ward, C.B., M.P. 

Rt. Hon. Lord Weardale 

H. G. Wells 

Rebecca West 

Rt. Hon. J. H. Whitley, P.C. 

Norman Wilks 

Harold Williams 

C. Hagberg Wright, LL.D., Librarian, London Library 



American 

Jane Addams Robert Morse Lovett 

James Lane Allen Edwin Markham 

Sherwood Anderson H. L. Mencken 

James Branch Cabell Harriet Monroe 

George W. Cable Eugene O'Neill 

Theodore Dreiser William Lyon Phelps 

Horace Howard Furness Chas. Ed. Russell 

Hamlin Garland Booth Tarkington 

Ellen Glasgow Lucy E. Textor 

Robert Underwood Johnson Hon. Henry Vandyck 
Owen Wister 



Beside those who have signed Shaw's letter, Thomas Hardy wrote : 

1 Although I have no first-hand knowledge of the details mentioned in Mr. 
Bernard Shaw's letter on translations of Tolstoy, I agree with the opinion that a 
good rendering of his works into English so far as that is possible should be made 
practicable by the concentration of effort on one production ; and I believe that 
Mr. Aylmer Maude's competence for the task is special and trustworthy.' 

iii 



Sir Edmund Gosse wrote to Mr. Aylmer Maude : 

' I wish to express my appreciation of your admirable labours and those of Mrs . 
Maude.* 

Mr. Joseph Hergesheimer wrote : 

* I fully agree with contents of the letter.' 

Professor Gilbert Murray wrote : 

' I am in the most cordial agreement with Shaw's letter and will most gladly sign 
it. It is a great public service that you and the Oxford Press between you are under- 
taking. The wonder to me has always been how Tolstoy contrived to make such a 
tremendous and characteristic impression through such an opaque and distorting 
medium as the average Anglo-American translation.' 



A score of letters containing Tolstoy's very emphatic authorization and 
endorsement of the Maude versions of his work (such as he gave to no 
other translator) have been deposited with the Oxford University Press. 
These expressions of approval begin in 1897, when Mr. Maude translated 
What is Art, and were continued till 1910, the year of Tolstoy's death. 
The following are a few extracts from these letters of Tolstoy's : 

5 Sept. 1897. ' I have written to Tchertkoff asking him to leave it to 
you to do the translation. That will give me more satisfaction.' 

18 Oct. 1897. ' You have filled in correctly the word omitted on p. 31. 
In general I see that you are doing the translation with great care, for which 
I am very grateful. I am almost certain I shall be in accord with all your 
comments, but still send them to me. I, too, will examine them carefully.' 

Nov. 1897. I will begin to reply in sequence to your admirable remarks, 
which are of great use to the undertaking. . . . With all the rest of your 
remarks I quite agree, and prompted by them I have made alterations in 
my (Russian) text. Please make more such.' 

Dec. 1897. ' I yesterday received both your letters, dear friend, and 
hasten to answer them. I also received the translation. I have gone through 
it and have not found anything that held me up, except the words 
" admirable book of Verm " (p. 22). It should be " very good " and not 
" admirable ". The translation seems to me to be very good.' 

Dec. 1898. ' I have received your letter, dear friend Maude, and am very 
glad that you are again in England and wish to work at translating my 
writings. I do not desire a better translator, both on account of your know- 
ledge of the two languages and of your strictness with yourself in every- 
thing ' 

Jan. 1899. ' I am very glad that your dear wife is doing the translation 
of Resurrection.' 

May 1900. 'Your translations are very good because you have an ad- 
mirable mastery of both the languages, and besides that, to my great 
pleasure, you love the thoughts you transmit.' 



Sept. 1900. 'To lose such translators as you and your wife would be 
very, very unpleasant. Better translators, both in your knowledge of both 
languages and in your penetration into the very meaning of the matter 
translated, could not be invented.' 

Feb. 1 90 1. ' I think that your and your wife's splendid translation of 
what has previously been published and badly translated should find a 
publisher.' 

Nov. 1901. (From a letter written by the Countess Olgo Tolstoy.) ' I 
am writing instead of Leo Nikolaevich, who sends many excuses for not 
having sooner replied to your two letters, and about the fine book, Sevas- 
topol, you have sent. All this time Leo Nikolaevich has been very unwell. 
.... He asks me to convey to you his great gratitude for the letters and 
for Sevastopol. He finds both the translation and the edition excellent, and 
that one could not desire anything better.' 

23 Dec. 1 90 1. 'I think I have already written you how unusually 
pleased I was with the first volume of your edition. All is excellent the 
edition, the notes, and chiefly the translation, and even more the con- 
scientiousness with which all this has been done. I opened it accidentally 
at the Two Hussars and read on to the end just as if it were something new 
and had been written in English.' 

6 Oct. 1903. A common friend in replying to an inquiry Mr. Maude made 
concerning his re-translation of a work, the previously published (Free 
Age Press) edition of which appeared faulty . ' L. N. (Tolstoy) asks me to 
reply to your inquiry about the exactness of your translation of What is 
Religion ? that your translation expresses his meaning more exactly, and he 
is quite satisfied.' 

11 Dec. 1903. ' Thank your kind friend Maude for sending me the 
volume of Essays and Letters (World's Classics series). The edition is very 
good.' 

1 Aug. 1909. ' I am always glad to hear news of you and of your occu- 
pation, so closely connected with me, on excellent translations of my 
writings. Your loving Leo Tolstoy.' 

18 Jan. 1 9 10. 'I am better now and add a line to say a few words, 
namely that the edition of your translations of my writings can only give 
me pleasure, because your translations are very good and I do not desire 
better ones. . . . My approval of your translations in my letters, you can, 
of course, publish.' 

The Tolstoy Centenary occurs in 1928, and the form the projected 
complete Maude-Tolstoy Centenary Edition may take has not yet been 
decided, but the material for it is being prepared and a pocket edition of 
as much of it as is quite ready is appearing in the World's Classics series, 
which already contains the following twelve volumes. 



THE 'MAUDE' TOLSTOY 

The * World's Classics ' Series 

Pocket size, 6 by 4 inches. On thin opaque paper. Cloth, 2s. net ; sultan-red 
leather, 3s. 6d. net. 

The Cossacks and Tales of the Caucasus. 

Including : The Raid, The Wood-Felling and Meeting a Moscow Ac- 
quaintance in the Detachment. 

1 The best story that has been written in our language.' Turgenev. 

War and Peace (3 vols.). 

1 We feel that we were ourselves there ; that we knew those people ; 
that they are a part of our very own past.' Maurice Baring. 

' It is among the greatest works ever made by man, and the country is 
under a debt to Louise and Aylmer Maude for rendering it into English.' 
New Labour Leader. 

Anna Karenina (2 vols.). 

1 Anna Karenina as an artistic production is perfection ... a thing to 
which European literature of our epoch offers no equal.' Dostoevski. 

Confession and What I Believe (1 vol.). 

One of the sincerest and most remarkable confessions in all literature. 

Twenty-Three Tales. 

Containing : God Sees the Truth , A Prisoner in the Caucasus, What Men 
Live By, Two Old Men, Where God is Love is, Ivan the Fool, The Three 
Hermits, The Imp and the Crust, How Much Land does a Man Need ? The 
Empty Drum, Too Dear, etc. 

1 I regard them as the most perfect tales ever written.' Carmen Sylva, 
Queen of Roumania. 

The Kreutzer Sonata, Family Happiness, aii</Polikushka (1 vol.). 

The first full translation, giving the passages suppressed by the censor. 
It is the most powerful and the most widely discussed of Tolstoy's shorter 
novels. 

Plays. 

A complete edition (including the posthumous plays) : The First Distiller, 
The Power of Darkness, The Fruits of Enlightenment, The Live Corpse, 
The Came of it All, The Light Shines in Darkness. 

1 Nothing in the whole range of drama fascinated me more than the old 
soldier in The Power of Darkness.' Bernard Shaw. 

vi 



Essays and Letters. 

Including : Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves ? Afterword to the Kreut- 
zer Sonata, The First Step, Non-Acting, Religion and Morality, Shame ! 
Letters to Verigin, Non-Resistance, How to Read the Gospels, Letters on 
Henry George, Modern Science, Patriotism and Government, ' Thou Shalt 
Not Kill ', Reply to Synod's Excommunication, What is Religion ? An 
Appeal to the Clergy, and fifteen other articles. 

1 Gives an excellent idea of the vast range of Tolstoy's intellectual 
activities.' Daily News. 

Resurrection. 

1 Undoubtedly the most important novel that has appeared in Europe 
for many years.' Edward Garnett. 

Ready Shortly. 

What then must we do ? 

Tolstoy's remarkable study of social conditions. 

Other Volumes in Preparation 



WHAT IS ART? 

(Now included in the volume, Tolstoy on Art.) 

' This book is a most effective booby trap. It is written with so utter a 
contempt for the objections which a routine critic is sure to allege against 
it, that many a dilettantist reviewer has already accepted it as a butt set up 
by Providence. . . . Whoever is really conversant with Art, recognizes in 
it the voice of the master.' G. Bernard Shaw in The Daily Chronicle. 

1 This calmly and cogently reasoned effort to put Art on a new basis is 
a literary event of the first importance. ... I have never come across 
anything so good in its way as Mr. Maude's version of Tolstoy. The trans- 
lation reads like an original : you feel that Tolstoy has lost nothing in 
transit. And what a wonderful artist in prose this Tolstoy is ! How vigorous 
and succinct ! How persuasive ! ' A. B. Walkley. 

1 Tolstoy's book is the most important essay in pure criticism of recent 
years, and it is destined to become a classic' Star. 

* The powerful personality of the author, the startling originality of his 
views, grips the reader, and carry him, though his deepest convictions be 
outraged, protesting through the book.' Pall Mall Gazette. 

* Mr. Aylmer Maude's translation is admirable a better piece of work 
has rarely been performed ; and Mrs. Maude's English renderings of the 
French poems, whether as to meaning, spirit or rhythm, are so felicitous 
that they amount to a tour deforce.' M. H. Spielmann in Literature. 

Oxford University Press, Amen House, London, E.C.4. 
vii 



THE LIFE OF TOLSTOY. 

First Fifty Years. By Aylmer Maude. Seventh Edition. 8 Illustrations. 
Demy 8vo. 12s. 6d. net. 

* Will stand, I think, among the big biographies of our literature.' 
G. Bernard Shaw. 

1 The book is no sooner opened than it begins to exercise a sort of charm 
from which it is impossible to escape.' Westminster Gazette. 

(The Second Volume : Later Years is out of print, and will be revised.) 

THE 'MAUDE' TOLSTOY. 

Resurrection. With 14 Illustrations by Pasternak. 7s. 6d. net. 

1 A special word of praise must be given to the illustrations. They illus- 
trate the author with a sympathy and an insight which Tolstoy has never 
before enjoyed.' Glasgow Herald. 

Plays. (Complete Edition. Six Plays.) 7 Illustrations. 7s. 6d. net. 

1 A vivid picture of life, full of light and colour and contrast ; full, too, 
of wisdom and the wit that knows just where to hold its hand.' The Times 
on ' Fruits of Culture.' 

Sevastopol and Other Stories, (including Two Hussars, etc.). Photo- 
gravure Portrait and Map. is. 6d. net. 

1 In these thrilling " Letters from the Front " Tolstoy realizes war . . . 
as no other writer has ever done before or since.' Contemporary Review. 

Constable and Co., 10 Orange Street, W.C.2. 



Leo Tolstoy. By Aylmer Maude. 8vo. 7 Illustrations. 6s. net. 

A complete biography, with an account of Tolstoy's home-leaving and 
death, and an explanation of what led to it. 

1 Mr. Maude is our best English authority on Tolstoy, not alone because 
he knew Tolstoy intimately, but because, whilst admiring and loving him 
for his genius and his sincerity, he judges calmly, and is not carried away 
by hero-worship.' Yorkshire Post. 

Methuen and Co., 36 Essex Street, London, W.C.2. 



The Life of Marie G. Stopes. By Aylmer Maude. With 14 Illustra- 
tions. 5s. net. 

An authorized biography giving, for the first time, the story of her 
childhood, academic life, marriage, writings, opponents and inner life. 

Williams and Norgate, 14 Henrietta Street, W.C.2 

viii 



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